Little Women Reviewed

The March sisters have been made over countless of times. A musical version was inevitable. In fact, I am surprised it took this long for one to be made. Alas, Little Women The Musical has landed on the Broadway stage after a brief tryout at Duke University.

Based on the beloved book by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women tells the story of the March sisters during the time of the Civil War in New England. Mr. March is off in the war leaving the four sisters and Marmee to fend for themselves. The March sisters are Jo, the tomboy, who longs to write “blood and gut” stories; the pretty, ladylike Meg; shy and demure Beth, and bratty, selfish Amy. Wise and confident Marmee holds the family together. The girls suffer heartache, love, and loss as they grow and learn together. The protagonist and heart of the story is Jo March. She struggles to find a place for she in a world where women are meant to stand up proper, be ladylike, marry, and have children.

The March women

Here is the bare bones synopsis of the musical. I can image many of you know the basic story, but beware of spoilers anyway. The musical begins in 1865 after Jo March has left her home to study writing. It then flashes back two years to her living with her mother and three sisters. The family is coping with life without their father who has left to fight in the Civil War. Aunt March tells Jo that she can come to Europe with her as long as she acts like a lady, which is the most difficult thing for Jo. Jo befriends her neighbor Laurie and they become best friends. Eventually Laurie falls in love with her and proposes marriage, but she refuses, wanting to focus on her writing instead. Since Jo has not lived up to her promise to Aunt March, she takes Amy to Europe instead. Dejected, Jo leaves home to refine her writing and meets Professor Bhaer. Her trip is short as she is summoned home because her sister Beth is very ill. Beth eventually succumbs to her illness, as Amy returns from Europe engaged to Laurie. At the wedding of Amy and Laurie, Jo and Professor Bhaer realize their affection for each other.

Sutton Foster is superb

The casting of Jo was crucial to the musical. The producers delayed the musical so Sutton Foster could finish up her Tony-winning run in Thoroughly Modern Mille. I have one thing to say to them, “excellent decision.” This show would be only half of what it is if it wasn’t for the gem that is Sutton Foster. She offers a delightful mixture of awkwardness, gawkiness, and lovability. Her physical comedy is superb, and every time she says, “Christopher Columbus,” you can’t help but adore her. On top of all that, her voice is stunning.

Danny Gurwin is charming as Jo’s longtime pal, Laurie, delivering the perfect amount of goofiness. Maureen McGovern seems to be a little cold and distant in her portrayal as Marmee. She never really shows the heart of the character. Amy Alexander’s Amy comes off as downright bratty and annoying all the time. In the book she starts off this way, but changes as she matures. In the musical there is no growth to her character at all. One wonders what Laurie sees in her. When she goes to Europe with Aunt March, I couldn’t help but be thankful that she would be off the stage for a while.


Jo longs to write “blood and gut” stories

Real life actors bring Jo’s stories to life very cleverly as she tells (and mouths because she can’t seem to help herself) the story. In adapting Alcott’s heartwarming story, Allan Knee has lost most of its spirit. He has failed to truly make us love and feel for the characters. Although the cast does its best, there are not enough heartwarming moments, and even the ones that are there feel rushed. When Amy throws Jo’s manuscripts in the fire, there is no time to truly understand just what Amy has done, and the true betrayal Jo must feel. I can remember feeling totally heartbroken when Jo breaks Laurie’s heart and refuses to return his love. Watching the musical, I felt no emotion for them. There had been no real set up to his love for her. The most glaring loss of emotion comes in the death of Beth. After Jo and her sing the beautiful song, “Some Things Are Meant To Be,” there is no real exploration of the grief the family must be feeling. Jo is given a small soliloquy, but it is not enough. Very soon after, life has returned to normal in the March household. Normalcy should never have returned if the relationship between the sisters had been adequately established. Yeah they love one another, but it should have been as if part of their heart was torn out.

The music and lyrics by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickson offer many charming songs including “Could You,” when Aunt March tries to turn Jo into a lady; and “Small Umbrella in the Rain,” when Jo and Professor Bhaer realize their affection for each other. But the best songs come in Jo’s assurance that she will defy what is expected of her, and make something of her life in the show stopper, “Astonishing,” and in Jo and Beth’s farewell in “Some Things Are Meant To Be.” Most of the songs do not advance the plot, and offer little heart tugging moments.

There is really one reason to see Little Women, and that is Sutton Foster. She is a true superstar, and worth the price of admission alone. She has a very long Broadway career in front of her, and should be among the nominees during Tony time. Fans of Alcott’s novel, beware, most of the best and touching moments, with the exception of one or two, are gone or rushed. Not even Sutton Foster can make those glaring ommissions disappear.

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