This latest offering from Therry is an absolutely delightful production. It has warmth, humour, heart-rending tender moments and good old-fashioned schmaltz.
Based on the classic Louisa May Alcott novel set during and after the American Civil War, this Little Women is a musical adaptation with a heart that has been lacking in many musicals of late. Allan Knee’s book is as faithful as can be having to be expurgated to allow for the inclusion of songs; whilst the lyrics (Mindi Dickstein) and music (Jason Howland) are lively and stirring. However, as nice as the music is, it is somewhat derivative of many modern Broadway musicals: there are times when one can almost see ‘a beast chasing a beauty’ across stage, while heroine Jo gets very close to ‘defying gravity’ at the end of Act One.
One of the main reasons that this production is so uplifting and moving is Haley Horton’s deft and subtle direction. This is the type of show that can easily plummet into hammy melodrama, but Horton makes sure that her version stays well away from that pitfall (apart from the intentionally hammy and very funny re-enactments of some of Jo’s stories).
Musical Director Mark Delaine proves yet again why he is so sought after on the Adelaide musical theatre scene, leading the very strong orchestra and guiding some very beautiful vocals and harmonies from the cast; with Vanessa Redmond’s choreography being light, snappy and very much in keeping with the nineteenth century style required.
The other big reason for the success of this particular version is the stellar performance of Catherine Hancock as independent would-be novelist Jo March. It is rare to find such star talent in amateur theatre, but Hancock is very much a shining light in this production. One watches every move she makes and listens to every word and perfect note she utters. Under Hancock’s guidance the character of Jo is always strong but never obnoxious.
Jo’s sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy are played with almost equal strength by Rebecca Raymond, Millicent Sarre and Emily Schwab respectively. Raymond is nicely romantic, Schwab the typical naughty little sister who turns into a sophisticated woman of the world well, and if Sarre’s performance doesn’t have an effect on you in Act Two, in particular, then you are quite possibly dead.
Trish Hart is yet another reason this production works so well. She gives a beautifully honed performance as Marmee, presenting a warm yet marvellously strong characterisation. Her two solos, “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty” are heart wrenchingly wonderful.
Ian Andrew (Laurie), Michael Denholm (Professor Bhaer) and Lindsay Prodea (John Brooke) are all extremely suitable suitors, with Denholm being the perfect foil for Hancock, and Andrew and Prodea perfect as gentlemanly beaus of the period.
Neville Phillis (Mr Laurence) has the likability when required, but isn’t quite feared and crotchety enough initially to allow the change to be obvious; and while good in the role of the boarding house land lady, Carolyn Mesecke looks uncomfortable as dowager Aunt March, with her attempt at aloofness not really hitting the mark.
Little flaws aside, the gentility, humour and sentimentality of this Little Women, reminded this reviewer why he became so enamoured with musical theatre in the first place.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Venue: The Arts Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 6 – 15 June 2013
Duration: 2.75 hours, including intermission
Tickets: Adult $30; Concession $25; Students 17 and under $13
Bookings: Phone: 8410 5515 (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm) or BASS
Photo by Doan Oswald. L-R: Millicent Sarre (Beth), Rebecca Raymond (Meg), Emily Schwab (Amy) and Catherine Hancock (Jo)