Little women weave tale of 19-th century storyline

Gordon Jones
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Theatre review

Does anyone still read Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women?" No need to do it right now, though. A musical incarnation of the nineteenth-century best-seller is currently viewable on stage at Holy Heart Theatre. The opening night audience was as large as I have seen in a goodly time. Could this be the Tina Maddigan-Broadway effect?

The show tells the stories of four sisters: sensible and responsible Meg, who works as a governess, tranquil but ill-fated Beth, pretty Amy, who puts on airs, and betrousered tomboy Jo, a budding writer and alter ego of the author herself. Together with their fond and sagacious mother, the siblings struggle to maintain a respectable, middle-class lifestyle while their absent father is serving as chaplain in the Union army during the American civil war. No Christmas presents for the girls this year.

Does anyone still read Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women?" No need to do it right now, though. A musical incarnation of the nineteenth-century best-seller is currently viewable on stage at Holy Heart Theatre. The opening night audience was as large as I have seen in a goodly time. Could this be the Tina Maddigan-Broadway effect?

The show tells the stories of four sisters: sensible and responsible Meg, who works as a governess, tranquil but ill-fated Beth, pretty Amy, who puts on airs, and betrousered tomboy Jo, a budding writer and alter ego of the author herself. Together with their fond and sagacious mother, the siblings struggle to maintain a respectable, middle-class lifestyle while their absent father is serving as chaplain in the Union army during the American civil war. No Christmas presents for the girls this year.

The social and economic circumstances of the family, the sisters' differing personalities and aspirations, their intimacies and rivalries, their squabbles and make-ups, and, of course, their beaux (or lack thereof) are the warp and woof of the musical chronicle. In costumes evoking the bygone era - long dresses, frock coats, bonnets and top hats - on a simple but stylish set, domestic comedy and light romance are played out briskly and bouncily, modulating into pathos and nostalgia, as Marmee and Jo sorrowfully grieve the premature death of Beth in the second act, culminating in more marriage-making, since life must go on.

Music and lyrics are serviceable but scarcely paradigm-shifting, but music connoisseurs will relish the very fine voices of a high-powered cast of singers: Tina Maddigan dynamic in the role of Jo, Petrina Bromley as mother hen Marmee, Keely Hutton as Beth, Kiersten Noel as Meg and Sarah Small as temperamental Amy, ably supported by Noreen Greene-Fraize in the part of rich and censorious Aunt March, Michael Power as love-smitten, young Laurie, Stephen Ivany as older admirer, Mr. Brooke, Tessa Crosbie as the boarding-house mistress, Tolson Barrington as Mr. Laurence and Calvin Powell as academically distant Professor Bhaer, who finally hitches up with grown-up and gown-wearing Jo.

While "Little Women" cannot be said to be high art, it is nonetheless an agreeable and polished evening of undemanding theatre with a feel-good ending, once you get over the premature death of Beth. And it is executed with consummate professionalism. So, if this intensely gynocentric version of an equally gynocentric novel sounds like your cup of tea, do not be discouraged by the relative brevity of this notice of a large production - the result of a short press deadline.

Created by Allan Knee, Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein, "Little Women" is directed by Keith Pike, with musical direction by Wade Tarling. The Theatre St. John's production continues its evening run at Holy Heart Theatre until Saturday, with the usual 8 p.m. curtain time, and with a final 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Admission is $25.

Organizations: Holy Heart Theatre, Union army, St John's

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