"Little Women the Musical" - By Allan Knee, Mindi Dickstein and Jason Howland - Greater Boston Stage Company (Stoneham, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL" from Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA. now playing through December 23, 2022. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)




By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds."     

                                                                                                 - Louisa May Alcott

Greater Boston Stage Company  

Presents the Broadway Musical

"LITTLE WOMEN"

Book By Allan Knee

Lyrics By Mindi Dickstein

Music By Jason Howland

Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott

Directed and Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins

Music Direction by Matthew Stern

Cast Includes: Amy Barker* (Marmee); Caleb Chew (us John Brooke/us Professor Bhaer); Abriel Coleman (Beth March); Sara Coombs* (Meg March/us Jo March); Deanna Dunmyer* (Aunt March); Jillian Gavin (Ensemble/us Amy March/us Beth March); Liza Giangrande (Jo March); Kenny Lee (Laurie); Michael Jennings Mahoney* (John Brooke); Kevin Patrick Martin* (Professor Bhaer/Dance Captain); Sarajane Morse Mullins (Ms. Kirk/ us Marmee/us Aunt March/us Meg March/us Jo March); Colin SanGiacomo (Ensemble/us Laurie); Robert Saoud* (Mr. Laurence); Katie Shults (Amy March).

Additional Creative Team:

Production Stage Manager - Shauwna Dias Grillo*; Assistant Stage Manager - Emily Fitzgerald*;  Assistant Stage Manager - Cassie Lebeau;  Scenic Designer - Shelley Barish;  Costume Designer - Gail Astrid Buckley; Lighting Designer - Katie Whittemore;  Sound Designer - John Stone; Sound Operator - Adam Smith;  Properties Designer - Jason Reis;  Scenic Charge - Kate Bell; Set Construction - New England Scenic, LLC/Misfit Toys Theatrical, LLC;  Production Manager - Casey Leone Blackbird; Production Assistant - Art Mohr;  Master Electrician - Lawrence Ware.

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States. 

^ Member of IATSE/USA 

Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street Stoneham, MA 02180 

Performances:

November 25, 2022 through December 23, 2022

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)

TICKETS:

Single Tickets: $64-69 Adults, $59-64 Seniors, $25 Students (with valid ID)

For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at # 781-279-2200 or visit https://www.greaterbostonstage.org/showstickets/mainstage/little-women/ 

Reserve your tickets today!

Box Office Hours: Mondays – Fridays, noon to 6pm 

Box Office # 781-279-2200 

boxoffice@greaterbostonstage.org

Note: The following review may contains spoilers. 

Just in time for the holidays, Greater Boston Stage Company (GSBC) in Stoneham presents “LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL” which takes a heartwarming look back on one of the most famous families in literature – the March family.

The latest GBSC production takes Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of “LITTLE WOMEN” and reconstructs the basic elements with a solid story thanks to the book by Allan Knee and a thoroughly absorbing score by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein

All of the ensemble performances are well executed under the astute guidance of esteemed director and choreographer Ilyse Robbins

Since Alcott’s “LITTLE WOMEN” was published back in the late 1860s (specifically 1868 & 69) there have been many plays and musicals adapted of her timeless story of the legendary “March Sisters” living in Civil War era Concord, Massachusetts. 

In this charming musical adaptation, which had far too brief a run on Broadway back in 2005, the story begins at a boarding house as the oldest March sister, Jo (Liza Giangrande), an author seeking to be published, recalls a pivotal Christmas at home back in Concord. 

Jo is completely focused on her stories - many, of which, include her family as main characters. 

At the same time, she is attempting to preserve her wonderful home life with mother, Marmee (Amy Barker), and Jo’s sisters: level-headed Meg (Sara Coombs), good natured Beth (Abriel Coleman) and annoying, immature brat Amy (Katie Shults).

Giangrande as Jo coveys strength, confidence with just a hint of vulnerability. In a finely tuned execution, this vulnerability grows as the story progresses. 

A resolute presence throughout, Giangrande approaches her songs, from the joyous and playful "Our Finest Dreams" to the show's signature song, "Astonishing,to the musical's "full circle" number, "The Fire Within Me" all with equal conviction.

Troubles begin, as do life changes, as Jo cuts down the tree of crusty neighbor, Mr. Laurence (Robert Saoud), whose grandson is a puppy-eyed admirer of Jo's, Laurie (Kenny Lee).

Jo and Meg bump into Laurie again later at a dance where Meg meets and instantly falls for Laurie's tutor, John Brooke (Michael Jennings Mahoney).

The couple later expresses their undying love in the song, "More Than I Am" as John informs Meg that he is going off to fight in the war yet asks her to marry him. 

In the song, there is a wonderful dynamic in the blending of voices between Coombs and Mahoney, who also provide great emotion as a couple professing their undying love while John goes off to war and potentially may never return. 

Coombs might well be the strongest vocalist in the ensemble, showcasing a dynamic range.

Jo visits her equally intimidating as wealthy Aunt March (Deanna Dunmyer) who offers Jo the opportunity to travel abroad but ONLY IF Jo can prove herself as a cultured member of high society, i.e. a "proper" lady.  

Well, this is where things start to slide downhill for Jo, who wants to travel but does not wish to do so at the sacrifice of her true self.

Dunmyer is simply absorbing in her portrayal of the domineering Aunt. 

Meanwhile, the obnoxiously immature Amy is so jealous of Jo and the opportunities she is being offered, she lashes out at her older sister which causes a rift between the two.  

Shults shows a nice progression of maturity in her performance of Amy as the show's plot continues to unfold.  

Meanwhile, Beth acts as mediator for all her sisters, as she seems to find the good in everything and everyone, even while facing (spoiler alert!) her own mortality as the classic tale unfolds.

Beth even finds the good in crusty Mr. Laurence, who surprisingly shows his tender side as he shares his love of piano music with "dreadful" Beth in the quirky number, "Massachusetts."

Coleman gives an even-handed portrayal of the winsome, amiable, always likeable Beth. 

(Photo: The CAST of "LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL" from Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA. now playing through December 23, 2022. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

While Jo seems either oblivious or unwilling to accept the life changes happening to her sisters, her mother, Marmee, sees all too clearly the changes taking place in the lives of her daughters as they become "little women." 

Marmee expresses her own thoughts in the exquisitely rendered song, "Here Alone" as Marmee writes to her husband, and March family's absent father, who is off fighting in the Civil War. 

Barker, as Marmee, gives a distinguishing performance which includes an emotionally charged rendition of the second act number, "Days of Plenty.

Laurie endears himself to the entire March sisterhood, who "adopt" Laurie into the family in the rousing number, "Five Forever," which includes some fine choreography by Robbins.

Kenny Yee is an outstanding vocalist who performs Laurie with applicable naïveté, but the approach to Laurie's unrequited love for Jo seems closer to a middle school crush which does not seem to really evolve too much as the show progresses.

Yet, his unbridled enthusiasm adds to the numbers, "Take a Chance on Me" and "The Most Amazing Thing" (a duet with Shults), proving absolutely infectious and winning over the audience.

Meanwhile, Jo defiantly tries to stave off her family's own "evolution," maintaining what she feels is a perfect moment in time in the lives of her family. 

Jo begins to feel as if her life is falling apart when all her sisters acquiesce to their own life-altering moments or destinies. This becomes evident by the Act One closer, and the most memorable song from the show, "Astonishing."

(Photo: "Five Forever" - The CAST of "LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL" from Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA. now playing through December 23, 2022. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

Also explored in the musical is Jo's relationship with fellow rooming house resident Professor Bhaer (Kevin Patrick Martin), who is both frustrated by...and supportive of...the burgeoning author.

Martin's interpretation and approach to Bhaer's growing affection toward Jo is expertly balanced, wonderfully expressed in Act Two's reflective, "How I Am" as Bhaer struggles, on paper, to convey his true feelings to Jo.

An emotionally charged pinnacle is reached as Jo must contend with ailing Beth in the scene featuring the unabated tear-jerker, "Some Things Are Meant To Be" which actresses Giangrande and Coleman deliver to perfection. 

From a staging perspective, the issue with this scene always seems how it "concludes." The key is in the kite but, creatively, as far as the script goes, instructions do not provide an easy solution. Yet, by the very end, all eyes should be focused on the kite (if one is used) and not the actresses.  

(Photo: Liza Giangrande as "Jo March" in a scene from "LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL" from Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA. now playing through December 23, 2022. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

The show is engaging from beginning to end, all told against the backdrop of a fabulous set. 

The scenic design by Shelley Barish is one of the most inventive approaches that enhances the storytelling, actually bringing us inside the book of "LITTLE WOMEN."  

What works less fabulously are two components: a "portable" fireplace and a "secret wall" behind a bookcase. 

The mobile fireplace in the otherwise antiquated March home seems anachronistic, at best. 

If the bookcase were left "ajar" it might help serve the set better as a type of "corridor" in the house. 

However, as it is used, it opens up or closes behind characters entering or exiting. One might just as well expect to hear the words, "Put.the.candle.back" (a la "Young Frankenstein") during these moments.

A splendid touch to the set design is the use of faint lines from the actual story scribed along the back wall. One almost expects these to be illuminated at points, yet they never do.  

(Photo: Liza Giangrande as "Jo" and Abriel Coleman as "Beth" in a scene from "LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL" from Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA. now playing through December 23, 2022. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

There is an “Operatic Tragedy” which, during the Act Two opener, “Weekly Volcano Press,” allows the principal cast to step outside their characters to portray roles from one of Jo’s stories. 

The number is long and does not advance the plot of the musical, but it does allow for some highly entertaining staging for the cast and the supporting ensemble.

Costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley were conducive to the era, as well as functional and, in the case of many of the costumes for the female characters, simply stunning.

The band and Music Direction by Matthew Stern all contributed greatly to the success of the show.

There might be some "Alcott enthusiasts," even loyalists, who will continuously find fault in the musical adaptation by Knee, Howland and Dickstein - noting various omissions and adjustments required from the source material to make the musical better suit the stage. 

However, in theory, those changes done in order to make "LITTLE WOMEN" a better musical certainly seem appropriate while keeping with the original spirit of the Alcott story. 

The loyal "following" which has grown since the musical adaptation has become more available to be produced has certainly borne out that theory.

This most recent staging by the Greater Boston Stage Company (GSBC) continues in that spirit and makes “LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL” a production that is also well worth following. 

During this hectic holiday season, “LITTLE WOMEN" proves, once again that, as Alcott wrote, "there is always light behind the clouds."

Approximately two hours, 30 minutes with one intermission 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 

@MetrmagReviews

@Theatre_Critics  

ABOUT THE SHOW

Experience Louisa May Alcott’s beloved tale of family, friendship, and love this holiday season.

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ABOUT GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY 

We bring vibrant professional theatre and dramatic education beyond the boundaries of Boston, featuring world and regional premieres alongside fresh interpretations of familiar work. Within this setting, we uniquely foster the artists of tomorrow by providing ongoing performance and employment opportunities to our company of current and former students. Now in its 22nd Season of live theatre in Stoneham, MA, Greater Boston Stage Company produces five Mainstage shows, presents a series of Special Events, and runs year-round classes, lessons, and fully staged productions through The Young Company for students in grades 1–12.

Box Office Hours: Mondays – Fridays, noon to 6pm 

Box Office # 781-279-2200 

boxoffice@greaterbostonstage.org

395 Main Street 

Stoneham, MA 02180 

greaterbostonstage.org