REVIEW- "Little Women," Barn Stage Company
The Barn Stage Company, Temecula’s Professional Theatre Company, presents the family friendly show “Little Women: The Broadway Musical” at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, January 11th through 21st, complementing perfectly one of the most beloved American novels of all time.
The story is about a new England family led by the wise matriarch Mrs. March, or Marmee (Susan Jordan DeLeon) and her beloved brood of four daughters – brassy, tomboy-like, aspiring writer Jo, romantic Meg, pretentious, high-strung Amy, and delicate, kind-hearted Beth –while the family patriarch is away serving as a Union Army chaplain during the Civil War.
Based on the classic Louisa May Alcott novel “Little Women” (1869), Director J. Scott Lapp invites us into the lives of these unforgettable March sisters, whose trials, dreams, and tribulations run the gamut of emotions. From the nervousness of a first dance, to the cathartic joy of dreams manifested, the highs and lows of its source material are brought to life through lively characters and a strong focus on plot. Intercut with the vignettes in which their lives unfold are several recreations of the melodramatic short stories Jo writes in her attic studio. Mindi Dickstein provides the lyrics while Jason Howland matches the story with a purely genius musical score, and the adapted book is written by Allan Knee.
Katie Perry brings a timorous and self-effacing quality to the role of Beth March, while Sydney Rose Hover gives a touch of grace and style to oldest sister Meg. The two central players are stage veteran Olivia Hodson (The Fantasticks; Fiddler on the Roof) as the mischievous Amy and the anchor of the show, Reanne Acasio, who gives a solid professional performance as Jo.
As storyteller and aspiring novelist, the winding path of Jo March takes center stage: Jo is successfully built up as self-willed, self-driven, and large-hearted, and we believe her when she proclaims, “We don’t live for society, we live for what’s inside of us.” As she is repeatedly challenged by the family, men, and publishers in her life, the self-assured flair and profound empathy she is imbued with are crucial and well-executed.
We are first introduced to Jo in New York in 1865, where she's come from her home in Concord, Massachusetts to make her way as a writer at a time when publishers notoriously wrote rejection letters back to young female authors, urging them to "go home and have babies." It also introduces Professor Bhaer (Joshua David Cavanaugh), a gentle German scholar, friend and mentor, and paves the way later for a more romantic turn of events. Thus, our story then begins on Christmas, two years before, in the attic of the March household.
The "An Operatic Tragedy" number begins as dialogue, with Jo reading her blood and action tales to her landlady, Mrs. Kirk (Eloise Coopersmith, who also plays the rich, etiquette-minded and slightly acerbic Aunt March) and Professor Bhaer. Then Jo segues with perfect timing between speaking, singing, pantomiming and lip-synching as the black screen behind her suddenly comes to life and metamorphosizes into synchronized characters of her story.
Before making her debut as the gangly Jo March, Ms. Acasio was most recently in Heathers, The Musical (OnStage Playhouse) and (W)holeness (San Diego Repertory Theatre). Ms. Acasio’s extraordinary vocals can be credited from The Performing Artist Academy and Center for Pop Music Philippines, which helped her nail the physical and emotional demands of the character along with the music. Her timing and range comes into play in production numbers like the aforementioned "An Operatic Tragedy," “Better,” and “The Fire Within Me.” But the exuberant "Astonishing," considered the anthem of the show, is a testament to the talents of Ms. Acasio. There was also not a dry eye in the place as she sang the heart-stirring ballad duet, "Some Things Are Meant to Be," with the dying Beth.
As Jo and her sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy navigate their own wants and discover their own strengths, musical numbers propel their characters through lyrical moments that are often accented with charming exchanges. Love and wooing abound in on-the-nose numbers from charming love interests Mr. Brooke (Ethan Park) in “More Than I Am” and Laurie (Drew Bradford) in “Take a Chance on Me,” while strong, declarative performances come from the sisters in “Our Finest Dreams.” As each sister grows into her own voice and carves her own distinct path through life, conflict and resolution serve to highlight the ways in which they accommodate one another and learn to grow.
Susan Jordan DeLeon, a member of Actor’s Equity, shines as Marmee portraying the strong, deeply moral and practical mother figure. As a continuing teacher, director and performer in the arts, Ms. DeLeon holds an M.F.A. in Musical Theatre from SDSU. In an early scene, she comes in with a letter from her husband, Mr. March. And as she writes a response, she reflects on how hard it is to be the pillar of strength in the March home ("Here Alone"). Her second solo in Act Two, however, may be one of the most memorable with the showstopper, “Days of Plenty.”
Mr. Laurence, powerfully characterized by John George Campbell, is Laurie's wealthy grandfather who lives next door to the March family. Although old Mr. Laurence often seems crabby or intimidating, he's actually a very compassionate, thoughtful person who loves his grandson very much and has a special liking for the March girls. His one song ("Off To Massachusettes") in the musical was full of rich timbre and tone and one of the best baritones I’ve heard in a long while.
Ms. Coopersmith also gives a very strong vocal performance in the second scene as Aunt March in a duet with Jo in “Could You,” showing her professional skills to the max.
There was a time when young women would devour Louisa May Alcott’s novel, “Little Women” as a rite of passage into womanhood. But even in the twentieth century, it’s hardly a mystery why “Little Women” has remained such a popular novel for the last 150 years. Though there is much romance to the heart of it, it has much more substance than simply being a romantic novel.
This timeless captivating story is brought to life in this glorious musical filled with personal discovery, heartache, hope, and everlasting love. It’s a musical that refuses to feel tragic, and you will leave the theatre feeling you know these sisters as though they’re family. Through laughter, tears, and a profound uplifting of spirit, the March sisters will wind their way into your heart, gently taking your breath away.
With just ten actors and a dozen musicians in the pit, including Conductor Bill Brown, “Little Women, The Broadway Musical” is a chamber musical with all the elements of a big show: a cast of veteran artists, a director with prime Broadway show credentials, and a top caliber creative team.
Scenic design is by Tim Mahoney. The production is simple but effectively staged with minimal furnishings. Curtains and eaves on overhead wires are quickly repositioned to delineate different locales in the March home and beyond with smooth scene transitions. Lighting is by Joel Britt, Sound by Hannah M. Dixon and Hair & Makeup Design by Kiana Bjur. Costumes were coordinated by Janet Pitcher, appropriate and congruent with the time period.
The Choreographer, Chelsea Nicole Lapp, should receive strong commendations on a truly challenging mix of scene sketches, dances and staging. And congratulations again to the Director, J. Scott Lapp (an alumnus of Directors Lab West) for an exquisite performance this past weekend.
Please join The Barn Stage Company for their final weekend of “Little Women, The Broadway Musical,” with show performances set for January 18th, 19th, 20th at 8:00pm and the 21st at 2:00pm. Tickets are now on sale at http://thebarnstagecompany.com/js_events/little-women/