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Review: ‘Little Women: The Musical’ at Third Wall Productions

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Mother’s Day afternoon was spent in a Baltimore church basement where we gathered for the musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale, Little Women. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, as Third Wall Productions (“TWP”) offers a delightful divertissement from those “Hallmark” family gatherings that have become so much a part of the annual holiday. Indeed, this mom prefers theater to barbecues or a fancy dinner with grandkids, and the trials and tribulations of the onstage March sisters fulfilled any missing family togetherness from past Sunday celebrations.

Mea Holloway, Grace Dillon, Christine Thomas-O’Meally, Lizzy Jackson Fleischmann, and Maggie Flanigan. Photo by Karen Osborne.

What a treat to drive alone, my radio tuned to Broadway show tunes, and discover yet another gem of local theater. Performing arts troupes have been popping up in “Charm City” faster than you can sing the lyrics of Hairspray’s “Good Morning Baltimore.” On any weekend, you can find a dozen or more shows geared for both adults and children; with more talent being showcased, the need for space increases. Thankfully, the umbrella organization, House of Bankerd, Inc., guides the artistic community toward local resources and, in the true spirit of supporting local theater, the Baltimore Costume Library lends their treasures for productions at little or no cost.

Producer Michael Zellhofer (who doubles as Mr. Laurence in the show) acknowledges these organizations in the Little Women program. Christine Thomas debuts as director, though the veteran actor also portrays Marmee March, the dutiful wife of a Civil War soldier who must muster on with her four daughters while the patriarch is away. Alcott’s autobiographical story of 19th century life in a house dominated by women lends itself easily to music – nice voices, both male and female.

Grace Dillon in Little Women: The Musical. Photo by Karen Osborne.

Added to that is the discovery of a teenage star, Grace Dillon, as the feisty character Josephine (Jo) March, perhaps the first feminist in a children’s novel. The Howard County high school senior casts a dizzying spell as she flits across the stage, in and out of doors, and balks at sisterly suggestions, only to rest for a moment at her desk hidden in the attic. It’s especially nice to see her slow down with her admirer, Professor Bhaer, nicely performed by Daniel Plante.

Both acts begin with a musical vignette with Jo in New York City trying to sell her adventure stories. Her tales unfold in an “Operatic Tragedy,” where cast members pop up as characters from Jo’s writing. J. Purnell Hargrove pulls out all the stops, first as Rodrigo, the swashbuckling prince/pirate, and later as Laurie, the “designated brother” to the March girls.

Here’s where we mention the costume designer, Lisa Dickinson, for authenticity to the period and for adding vibrant color throughout the show. This writer was also impressed with  Set Designer, Jordan Hollett, who chose three distinct places for the actors to perform. At all times, we were surrounded by singing and, yes, some dancing, too, on the postage-sized stage. The live music kept the performers perfectly in time and on pitch, thanks to Andrew Zile, the Resident Conductor and Orchestra Director of Third Wall Productions. I love that he wears a traditional tux and tails as he swings his baton.

Maggie Flanagan and Grace Dillon. Photo by Karen Osborne.

Though the opinionated, aspiring writer Jo dominates the tale (as previously mentioned, Grace is terrific), I must compliment the other March sisters – romantic Meg (Maggie Flanigan), perky Amy (Lizzy Jackson), and sweet Beth, my favorite, beautifully portrayed by Mea Holloway. Meanwhile, Patricia Brunker adds a saucy side to stuffy Aunt March. Perhaps she sums it up best when she sings “How Can I Do Better Than What is Already Here.”

This musical might not leave you whistling memorable tunes, but it will have you admiring lots of local talent. And you may even appreciate your own siblings just a little bit more. Catch this family-friendly musical before it closes this weekend.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Little Women: The Musical plays through May 21, 2017, at Third Wall Productions performing at Church of the Messiah – 5801 Harford Road, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 838-4064, or purchase them online.

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