REVIEW: Little Women - La Habra Theater Guild Production

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

"...Sisters. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

It’s not all peaches and cream, even in this family. But for some reason, audiences can't seem to get enough of the March sisters.

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about the romantic adventures and sibling bond of the four famous sisters has always worked, whether as a book (1868), TV movie (1978), feature film (1933, ’49, ’94), or the musical theatre version, which officially opened on Broadway in 2005, directed by Susan Schulman.

In either case, the story focuses on the March family — traditional Meg, who dreams of getting married and having children; feisty, opinionated, aspiring writer Jo, who wants to do “all the things;” sweet, selfless, perfectly content Beth who only wants to be surrounded by family, and romantic Amy, the baby of the family…a stunning artist who works hard to be included. And even though they may occasionally fight and argue, the March sisters are always dedicated to sticking close through every disagreement, every hard moment and every year as they all gradually grow up together.

Recently closing their run, La Habra High School Guild presented their 78th offering with this endearing musical, “Little Women,” derived from Alcott’s evergreen novel by the same name. A perfect Valentine outing, the show was performed from February 14 through the 23rd at Pitlockry Hall, the high school’s theater, imaginatively staged and directed by the team of Erika (SCR’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”/TV’s “Criminal Minds”) and Brent (SCR’s “Sweeney Todd”/ “The Sound of Music”) Schindele, enhanced by Brian Johnson’s artistic value, along with inculpable sound and atmospheric lighting, plus Tana Carmichael’s quondam era costumes.

Pulsing with a generous affection for its source material, the action was kept clear and flowing, while a refreshing, familiar songbook of period waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles from Jason Howland provided an overall tapestry, gamely supported by Mindi Dickstein's lyrics.

It's hard not to love the March girls of Concord, Massachusettes, so deeply etched are Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy on the cultural and emotional landscape that they resurface from generation to generation like cherished friends. The theme of family solidarity, plus the light blend of romance and budding feminism depicted through believable characters has kept this quintessential literary standard in the forefront for 150 years.

Watching this extracted shorthand account of four sisters growing up poor but honest during the Civil War is like speed reading Alcott's book in one fell swoop. You glean only the most salient traits of the principal characters, events and moral lessons, but on its own terms, this condensed musical take on this heartwarming classic satisfyingly hits just the right emotional notes.

It really is a lovely story, full of simple charm and delightfully calculated performances, including an entrancing turn by its engaging lead, aspiring film-maker Veronica McFarlane (“The Crucible”), as Alcott's deliciously hoydenish, proto-feminist heroine, Jo. Reacting with impatience to the many limitations placed on women and girls, Jo hates romance in her real life, and wants nothing more than to simply hold her family together.

Intercut with the vignettes in which their family lives unfold are several recreations of the melodramatic short stories Jo writes in her attic studio, and the role is handled with much vigor and gusto. The tomboyish Jo is shown at first in a New York prologue, musically acting out the parts of her blood-and-guts short story for infatuated friend Professor Bhaer (Jeremy Percy), and her landlady Miss Kirk. In "An Operatic Tragedy," the number begins as dialogue and metamorphosizes into the characters of the story coming to life on the upper deck of the stage, while Jo mimics the actors with perfect timing between speaking, singing and lip-synching. Ms.