Review: ‘Little Women (The Musical)’ by Wildwood Summer Theatre at the Arts Barn

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Wow! Wildwood Summer Theatre’s production of Little Women (The Musical) was both dazzling and polished; its shine reflected the animated energy of its all-youth (ages 14-25) cast and crew, while showcasing an amazing adeptness and finesse that belied the group’s fledgling status.

Little Women, presented by Wildwood Summer Theatre, plays through August 4, 2018, at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg. Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.
Little Women, presented by Wildwood Summer Theatre, plays through August 4, 2018, at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg. Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.

Little Women (The Musical), by Allan Knee with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland, based on the classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, is largely set inside the March household – a warm greenhouse filled with nutrients and positive conditions. There, the March girls (Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, and their mother, Marmee), their neighbors (the imposing Mr. Lawrence and his grandson, Laurie), relatives (the wealthy, stern Aunt March), and suitors (the tutor, Mr. Brooke, and Professor Bhaer) grow into capable, yet caring humans, despite experiencing loss, self-doubt, and rejection during the Civil War. The characters’ interactions among themselves and reactions to difficult situations, especially regarding how women support themselves and carry on in the absence of their beloved men during wartime, provide universal lessons for anyone who has to become self-sufficient while dealing with loss and uncertainty.

This production expertly generated both romantic and comedic effects by combining beautiful musical and vibrant acting performances, period-perfect costumes, a multi-tiered, yet simple set, and exceptional direction to fully engage the audience.

Even though Mr. March is absent throughout the entire play, we feel his presence and the sorrow and longing that the women feel for him. On set, his photo is displayed on the piano. In the photo, he wears a Civil War uniform. Early in the first act Mrs. March (Emma Higgins), who the girls call “Marmee,” reads the girls a letter from their father and they all discuss their feelings for his absence. After the girls have gone to bed, Higgins sings about leaving out her sorrow in writing a letter to her husband, and she sings of her longing for him and her worry in “Here Alone.”

In this production, the sisters’ bond is clearly seen, especially between Beth and Jo. It is evident that Beth adores Jo–early in the play Beth (Taylor Litofsky) says, “Jo is an incredible human being.” Beth lives vicariously through Jo and Jo cares deeply for Beth. After going to the ball with Meg, leaving the two younger girls (Beth and Amy) at home, Jo (Emily Alvarado) returns and says “Beth, darling, I brought you a truffle.” It was a thoughtful gift for a sister who rarely had the opportunity to taste decadent treats like truffles.

Director Gavin Kramar did an excellent job with the timing of comedic lines. For instance, in Act I Jo is having her sisters enact a story that she has written and Meg (Hannah Elliott) asks, “Jo, do I die again in this one?” To which Jo smilingly and delightedly declares, “Yes!” Then, during one of the ball scenes toward the end of the first act, the March girls’ friend and neighbor Laurie Lawrence (who is smitten with Jo), says to Jo with innocent abandon, “Let me see your patch.” The irony is that the patch is on Jo’s backside.

As for the music, the solos, duets, and harmonies combine sweet sound and emotion.  Higgins’ solo, “Here Alone,” is beautiful and heart-wrenching. She sings, “the peal of the church bells brings the war to our door,” with haunting depth and feeling. Elliott and Noah Beye (Mr. Brooke) sing about their love for and devotion to one another on the night before Mr. Brooke leaves for war in “More Than I Am.” The chemistry between Elliott and Beye is evident. During a tender moment, Beye naturally reaches out his hand to tuck a stray curl up behind Elliott’s ear. Alvarado’s strong, clear singing voice acts as a linchpin in the chorale numbers and all of the performers sing pleasingly.

Alyssa Herman (Amy) and Josh Beede (Professor Bhaer) were perfectly cast. Alyssa Herman was brilliant as a spoiled, bratty Amy March, the youngest of the four sisters. Herman displays a perfect look of disgust at Alvarado (Jo) when she goes to the ball, leaving Amy behind because she wasn’t invited, but snatching her fan on the way out the door. Beede was perfectly cast as the tall, serious love interest for Jo. His lines seemed to be delivered in exact response to what she was saying, with perfect timing and feeling.

Little Women, presented by Wildwood Summer Theatre, plays through August 4, 2018, at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg. Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.
Little Women, presented by Wildwood Summer Theatre, plays through August 4, 2018, at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg. Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.

Katie Cannon’s costumes were wonderful indications of the characters’ class and the epoch of the piece. It was easy to identify that the March girls and their mother were not well-to-do by the homespun and simple cloth used in their costumes. Their drab garments were markedly juxtaposed against the wealthier characters’ (Aunt March, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Brooks and Laurie) who wore taffeta, silk, poplin, and lace. The hoops, pinafores, ascots, and vests worn, along with Gabi Scott’s marvelous coiffures for the girls, also contributed to define the setting. All the women wore braids and curls, which were in high-fashion during the mid-1800s. Each character had her own defining hairstyle, appropriate to age and station.

Scenic Designer, Sophie Mezebish, creatively layered the stage into four subsections that made for interesting and identifiable scene changes. An arched beam and a round window identified one area as the attic. In the mid-range was a piano, the photo of Mr. March, and a velvet couch. On the next level closer to the audience was a writing desk with a feather pen and a coffee table. Finally, there was a bare space on the wooden stage that was used intermittently when suitors would get on one knee for proposals and also when Beth and Jo are at the beach. Most action could be seen up to the desk, but when performers would use the floor, it was difficult for the audience to see. However, the clever layering of the set, along with the actors’ staging, was enough to add variety and indicate a change of scene.

Running Time: Two hours and five minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Little Women (The Musical) runs through August 4, 2018, at the Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, or go online.

Note: Little Women is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).