Little Women began as a coming of age novel by Louisa May Alcott based on the author’s own family’s loves and losses during the Civil War. In the book, the March sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy deal with life alone with their mother while their father is away serving as a chaplain in the army. The title Little Women is drawn from the Dickensian meaning in which the story represents where childhood and womanhood overlap.
The book was originally published 150 years ago and has remained popular to this day, never having gone out of print.
A stage musical adaptation premiered on Broadway in 2005. Now TownSquare Players has brought that musical to life on the Woodstock Opera House stage.
The character of Jo is based on Alcott herself – a young woman who desires to become a professional writer. Meg, the oldest daughter, manages the house while the girls’ mother is away. Beth is quiet, gentle, and sweet. Amy is the youngest of the sisters and is obsessed with keeping the appearance of being a proper young lady.
In the TownSquare Players production, Jessica Dawson plays the central character of Jo. Dawson has been a staple of local theater for years, but typically in supporting roles. Here, given the chance to carry the show, she provides a simply amazing performance. As a singer, Dawson’s voice is extraordinarily powerful yet beautiful. As an actress, Dawson commands the stage with seasoned expertise. It is a performance not to be missed.
The mother of the March clan, referred to as Marmee – a derivative of “mommy” – is played with command and exquisiteness by Tania Joy. Like Dawson, Joy can fill the theater with the emotion and dominance in her voice.
Emily Joelle Robles plays eldest sister Meg, and does so with grace and aplomb. Ariella Simandl as Beth is soft and quiet and gentle – the sister that no one can help but love. In the role of Amy, the youngest of the brood, Larisa Bell is simply magnificent – going from a precocious self-centered child, to a mature woman of the world. All of the sister have fine singing voices. Rounding out the women in the cast is Christi Nicholson as the sisters’ wealthy Aunt March who makes the most of her time on stage.
Even though Little Women is not a “dance” show, choreographer Maggie McCord does a great job keeping the action and movement interesting. Music Director Rosemarie Liotine-Aiello has sculpted both the onstage singers and pit orchestra into things of beauty. Director Roger Zawacki deserves ample credit for casting and staging a magnificent musical that brings the classic book to life in a believable and entertaining fashion.
Of course the cast is not limited to little women. Men play a vital part of the story in supporting roles. Ethan Sherman is in fine form as Laurie, a close friend and honorary member of the March family. Alex Fayer provides an effectively subdued interpretation of Professor Bhaer, confidant to Jo when she moves to New York to try to sell her stories. John Barnett is the epitome of the classic leading man as Mr. John Brooke. Chris Griffin embodies the bitter old man neighbor to the March sisters, Mr. Laurence.
Special praise also goes out to costume designer Teagan Anderson who created many of the costumes from scratch. Kudos to producers Kathryn McCord and Sieglinde Savas, and Assistant Director/Stage Manager Thomas Neumann for their contributions to the creation of this brilliant piece of entertainment.
All in all, TownSquare Players’ Little Women – The Musical is a definite hit and the standing ovation the cast received on opening night is well deserved.
Little Women – The Musical plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 18 at the Woodstock Opera House (121 Van Buren Street on the Historic Woodstock Square). Standard seating is affordably priced at $18-$25. Student and Senior discounts are available. For ticket information call the Woodstock Opera House box office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.
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