The novel Little Women, originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869 respectively, has historically been popular, progressive as it was in its time in its portrayal of women as being able to take the lead in managing the various affairs of a household, far beyond the traditional life of domesticity. Through contemporary lenses, the book and this musical adaptation, are still too reliant on the male species – the benevolence of Mr Laurence (Brian Protheroe) donating his late wife’s piano to young Beth (Anastasia Martin) being a case in point, as are the various marriage proposals, all of whom involve a man taking the knee. And why must everyone be married off anyway?
It was, truth be told, difficult to warm to the show. Aside from Beth, perhaps only the mother of four daughters, known only as Marmee (Savannah Stevenson), is consistently likeable. Marmee’s sister, the (un)imaginatively titled Aunt March (Bernadine Pritchett) is, in a word, a snob. Beth’s sisters – in age order, Meg (Hana Ichijo), Jo (Lydia White) and Amy (Mary Moore) – bicker as siblings in their formative years tend to do, which gets more than a little tiresome as the show progresses.
Expressions of love, whether sisterly or within the context of a relationship, come across as overkill and melodramatic, and therefore insincere. Perhaps a larger scale production would bring the magnitude of some of the musical numbers and the emotions being portrayed into alignment. This stripped-down version does at least accurately display the frugal lifestyle of the March family. But the downside of being as financially restricted as the Marches is that the households of the considerably wealthier Mr Laurence and Aunt March look more or less just as sparse.
There’s no faulting a spirited and energetic cast, who do much with what they are given. White’s Jo, the show’s most prominent character (as the curtain call would have it) is vocally very strong – five musical numbers are hers alone, and White’s stage presence is nothing short of magnetic. Her life story is inspiring, and it is something of a damning indictment for our apparently more enlightened times that some of the obstacles Jo had to overcome in the nineteenth century are still somewhat prevalent in the twenty-first.
A string quartet accompanies musical director Leo Munby, providing different arrangements to the ones in the original Broadway cast recording. It works, I suppose, for the scale of the staging. With an absent father – albeit one absent for honourable reasons – there isn’t (spoiler alert) a big reunion to round off proceedings. This isn’t The Railway Children. The most positive point to take away from this production is the strength of family ties. Nobody here complains about the government because nobody here relies on the government. But the show felt twenty minutes too long, and while some in the press night audience were very much moved by what they saw, I struggled to maintain interest. A faster pace wouldn’t go amiss in this ambitious production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Jo, the second eldest of the March daughters and an aspiring writer, receives yet another rejection from a publisher. Her friend, Professor Bhaer, tells Jo she can do better by making her stories more personal. Begrudgingly, Jo weaves the story of how she and her sisters grew up in Civil War America – a tale of self-discovery, heartache, hope and everlasting love.
Little Women, a timeless and captivating story, is brought to life in this glorious musical based on Louisa May Alcott’s critically acclaimed book; with a beautiful score by Grammy Award winner Jason Howland. With book and lyrics by Allan Knee and Mindi Dickstein, Little Women follows the adventures of the four March sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy.
Perfect for all of the family, the classic story and stunning music embody the complete theatrical experience, guaranteeing a night filled with laughter, tears and a lifting of the spirit.
RYAN BENNETT – PROFESSOR BHAER
HANA ICHIJO – MEG
SEV KEOSHGERIAN – LAURIE
ANASTASIA MARTIN – BETH
MARY MOORE – AMY
BERNADINE PRITCHETT – AUNT MARCH
BRIAN PROTHEROE – MR LAWRENCE
LEJAUN SHEPPARD – JOHN BROOKE
SAVANNAH STEVENSON – MARMEE
LYDIA WHITE – JO
LIV ANDRUSIER – COMPANY
BOOK – ALLAN KNEE
MUSIC – GRAMMY AWARD WINNER JASON HOWLAND
LYRICS – MINDI DICKSTEIN
DIRECTOR – BRONAGH LAGAN
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – LEO MUNBY
CASTING DIRECTOR – JANE DEITCH
LIGHTING DESIGNER – BEN M ROGERS
SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER – NIK CORRAL
SOUND DESIGNER – PAUL GAVIN
FIGHT DIRECTOR – RENNY KRUPINSKI
Aria Entertainment, Hope Mill Theatre and Knockhardy Productions in association with Park Theatre present the London premiere of
Little Women The Musical
Based on the book by Louisa May Alcott
Plays: 11 Nov – 19 Dec 2021