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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Little Women: The Musical – talented cast struggles against its book

Musical theatre may be built upon the music, but success also relies on a clever script and exciting choreography. Sadly, Little Women: The Musical, while musically strong, falls short in those marks of success. Fighting Chance puts up a strong effort, but ultimately cannot overcome the obstacles inherent in this book to musical adaptation.

Based on Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 semi-autobiographical book, the story of Little Women follows the March sisters as they grow up in pastoral Concord, Massachusetts. From passionate Jo, to romantic Meg, snobbish Amy, and gentle Beth, generations of readers have found someone to identify with as the girls are inextricably pulled into adulthood.

Fighting Chance’s production is musically strong but the musical’s book does not give enough time for these characters to develop believably. With a novel’s worth of plot to get through and half the show spent in song, the characters cannot help but seem one-dimensional.  While the songs are emotionally evocative they do little to move the plot along; resulting in jarring flips of character. Mr. Laurence (Peter Stainton) goes from crotchety villain to gruffly benevolent grandpa in the span of a few bars while Marmee (Jennifer Long) is suddenly struck with crippling doubt in “Here Alone”. The actors are more than capable, but the book just doesn’t give them the space to evolve.

The show is performed by an obviously talented cast; Robin Eder-Warren (Meg) and Jennifer Long (Marmee) are nothing short of stunning. Eder-Warren’s voice cascades over the rest of the ensemble adding a layer of technical brilliance that is a pleasure to hear. Long’s two emotional solos had me hungering to hear more. But it is Danielle Melvin’s sweet and subtle Beth that captures your heart. Her final scene contains such a poignantly understated softness that speaks volumes towards her bright future in Vancouver theatre.

Ryan Mooney’s direction shines brightest when Jo reads her stories aloud. The actors, pulling double duty as her fictional characters, suck the audience in as their swords flash and skirts fly in two exciting scenes performed with wonderfully lighthearted joy. In this instance the choreography is dramatic and captures Jo’s excitement perfectly as she leaps across the furniture reading her work, but these moments are too few and far between. Other numbers, particularly “How I Am”, and “The Most Amazing Thing”, are performed with little to no movement causing a massive drop in energy. They are a musical pleasure, but visually inert.

Little Women: The Musical is an inherently flawed musical which was further let down by the limitations of a studio space. A larger space could have offered more flexibility in terms of choreography and orchestra placement, but would not have solved the structural issues of the musical itself. Fighting Chance showed a solid effort, but could not overcome the book itself.

Little Women: The Musical.  Directed by Ryan Mooney. Music by Jason Howland. Lyrics and Book by Mindi Dickstein and Allan Knee. Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. A presentation by Fighting Chance Productions in association with Renegade Arts Company. On stage at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright st, Granville Island) until December 21. Tickets are available online at Tickets Tonight.

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