Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music’s production of Little Women is nearly three hours of spectacular musical merriment. Directed by faculty member Jay D. Brock and with a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, the show is a proud addition to the school’s 30th season.
The story, which takes place in Concord, Massachusetts, is based on author Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1869 semi-autobiographical novel, and the trials, sibling rivalries and drama in the lives of the four March sisters: in love-with-love Meg (Marika Countouris), brash Jo (the incomparable-voiced Meredith Eib), putting-on-airs Amy (Allie McCrea), and compassionate Beth (Carrie Kirby) and their mother Marmee (Claire Gallagher); during the time of the play, the family’s patriarch is serving as a Civil War Union Army chaplain in Washington, D.C.
Young women in the time period of the play faced more rigid social mores than they do today. As Dramaturg Eleanor Tynan wrote: “Women were expected to marry early and maintain a proper household.” I loved the words of Jo: “We don’t live for society, we live for what’s inside of us.”
The story began in the Summer of 1865 at a boarding house. The opening number, “An Operatic Tragedy,” sung by the outstanding lead, Eib, Clarissa (Countouris), Braxton (Brandon Bedore), and Professor Bhaer (Aaron O’Brien Mackisey) was a rousing exposition of the stories aspiring writer Jo had in her head. Later, Eib’s Jo had a fantastic solo in “Better,” and her renditon of “Astonishing” was simply… astonishing!
As the story moved ahead to the Winter of 1864 at the girls’ Aunt March’s (Anna Phillips-Brown) house, Eib and Phillips-Brown brought lyrical wonderment to “Could You?” Beth (Kirby) and Mr. Laurence (Ashton Schaffer) did a lovely job with “Off to Massachusetts. John Brooke’s (Bedore) solo in “More Than I Am,” as the story moved to Spring 1865, stood out.
Act Two opened with the Company’s fabulous “The Weekly Volcano Express.” Professor Bhaer’s (Mackisey) solo “How I am” moved the story further toward his growing romance with Jo. As the story chronicled the life-threatening illness of one of the sisters and moved to the Fall of 1866 in Falmouth, Cape Cod, “Some Things Are Meant to Be,” sung by Kirby and Eib was heart-wrenching.
“The Most Amazing Thing,” sung by Laurie Laurence (Brian McNally) and McCrea showcased the good chemistry between those actors. Gallagher’s solo in “Days of Plenty,” as Marmee, was simply awesome, hitting several emotional valleys and peaks, as the story uncovered several life changes in the March household. Eib’s “The Fire Within Me” powerfully showed the passionate heart of Jo.
Music Director and Conductor N. Thomas Pedersen beautifully conducted Howland and Dickstein’s score, giving the singing in the show a fantastic musical foundation. All the fabulous musicians deserve special kudos.
Scenic Designer J.D. Madsen’s proscenium set’s most interesting feature was a window on which various outdoor scenes were rear-projected. Costume Designer Kristina Martin masterfully dressed the cast in everything from a Civil War Union Army uniform to hoop skirts.
Little Women is not to be missed. Take the entire family to see this glorious production.
Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Little Women plays through February 26, 2017, at The Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music performing in Ward Recital Hall – 620 Michigan Avenue, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 319-5416, or purchase them online.