Theatre Review: Little Women

If these graduates are any indication of our future musical theatre talent then the country will be in excellent hands

Presented by: Elder Conservatorium Music Theatre (ECMT) 

Reviewed: 18 April, 2024

I will admit that I had heard so many good things about the musicals put on by the ECMT and their students that I was really looking forward to their current production Little Women – The Broadway Musical. Would it live up to the hype that I had heard about their other productions? More so!! There are not enough superlatives in the English Dictionary to describe this amazing production (but I will try my best – note that I have used one already).

Louisa May Alcott beloved classic novel has been filmed 6 times (1917 through to 2019), made into various television series (even a Japanese anime Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari (Love’s Tale of Long Grass) – believe it or not), a stage play, an opera and finally the musical version in 2005 starring Sutton Foster as Jo and Maureen McGovern as Marmee. It is this musical version – book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein – that ECMT now so lovingly present.

This year’s ECMT graduating students under the professional leadership of Director Erin James, Musical Director Martin Cheney and Movement Director Joseph Simons, have presented an absolutely charming, magical show. This musical harks back to the good old days of feel good, entertaining musicals that had heart and soul, a good story line and plenty of great numbers.

Played on Set Designer Simon Greer’s wonderfully simple but evocative set representing, in main, an open book, the tale of the four March girls growing up in 1860s Concord, Massachusetts comes to life. The surrounding walls are planks of wood not only representing the building style of the day, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, keeping with the symbolism of books and writing – what’s paper made from? Greer’s set also allows for the clever storing of wooden chairs. The chairs also serve as other pieces of furniture, such as a harpsichord and piano – very well thought out.

Now for the cast – the entire 19 cast (they alternate roles every other performance) are gob-smackingly fantastic in whatever they do in this show – even scene changing! Every move in these changes is choreographed and performed beautifully. Take a bow Movement Director Simons and cast. I would pay to just see the set get changed – it’s a piece of art in itself!

As would-be writer Jo March, Alana Iannance is a little pocket rocket of stellar proportions. Although diminutive in height her talent is immeasurable. Every thing about her performance screams “Here I am! The star you have been looking for”. The very true meaning of the phrase ‘triple threat’, Iannance sweeps the audience along with gusto giving us the ride of our lives. Her Act One Finale solo Astonishing is Idina Menzel worthy and indeed astonishing. Remember her name, Alana Iannance– if this young lady does not go far in the industry, then there is no justice in the world of musical theatre.

Jo’s three siblings, Meg, Beth and Amy, are well portrayed by Amy McCann, Jelena Nicado and Emily Simmons respectively. All four are very believable as sisters interacting with and harmonising together beautifully. Simmons in particular plays a spoilt brat hilariously. Playing over her real age, Sophie Volp is truly convincing as Marmee March and her vocals in her two solos, Here Alone and Days Of Plenty are simply stunning – if you don’t feel a lump in your throat after them, see a doctor immediately. The other March woman, matriarchal Aunt March is played with royal dignity and poise by Tayla Alexander reminding one of a young Queen Victoria. Although she’s feared, Alexander does give the character a nice glimpse of softness at times.

This is a heavily female laden show, but the males that there are hold their own. Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence, literally the boy next door, is played delightfully gawky by Darcy Wain. Wain is another obvious ‘triple threat’. His comic timing is easily up there with Iannace’s as is his singing talent. His lithe movements are just joyous to watch. Another with wonderful comic timing is Sascha Debney-Matiszik as Professor Bhaer. His excellent German accent is maintained throughout, even in his vocals (not an easy feat). Another actor playing above their age is Brendan Tomlins as crotchety neighbour Mr. Laurence. He gives an appropriate stiffness to his character originally, softening nice and subtly as he progresses, especially in Act Two. Jay Scott rounds out the male contingent well as tutor John Brooke, another who is slightly flustered around females. He is nicely prim and proper and captures our image of an American gentleman of the period.

Ava-Rose Askew makes a lovely landlady in the form of Mrs. Kirk. And let’s not forget the “Operatic Tragedy” Players; Jess Allsop, Greg Mitchell, Liam Dundon, Tayla Alexander, Grace Jones, Oliver John and Lily Walker. Wonderfully overplayed (intentionally) by all.

If these graduates are any indication of our future musical theatre talent then the country will be in excellent hands. Don’t worry if you are not a friend or relative, go and see young upcoming stars excellently entertaining you so that you can say “I was there when they were starting out”.

Very well done, Class of 2024 and ECMT!!

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey

Photo credit: Greg Balcombe

Venue: Scott Theatre
Season:  Until 21 April 2024
Duration:  2 hrs 35 mins (including 20 min interval)
Tickets:  $39 – $49

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