Lots to Admire in Little Women at ArtsWest Playhouse
Though the musical is not well known, the Louisa May Alcott novel and several film versions based on it have kept Little Women in the public consciousness for decades. The tale of four very different sisters (boisterous budding author Jo; practical, maternal Meg; fragile Beth; and flighty Amy) and their strong, loving mother Marmee keeping the home fires burning in Concord, Massachusetts, while their father is away serving as a chaplain for the Union Army in the Civil War is told partly employing flashback in Allan Knee's respectable book adaptation. Though the Dickstein/Howland score falters and fizzles in places, it has its merits, in such songs as "Some Things Are Meant to Be" and "Days of Plenty," and Wright's cast invests itself strongly in their characterizations, acted out on a marvelous suggestive set by Christopher Mumaw and clothed in costumes by Rachel Wilkie which expertly capture the bygone era depicted.
Heading up this notable company is the fiery and fiercely talented EmilyRose Frasca who keeps Alcott's Jo the headstrong force of nature Alcott intended her to be. Frasca shows us Jo's maturation from tomboyish teenage hellion to strong womanhood, and displays a remarkable voice which soars during her act one closer "Astonishing," which seems clearly inspired by the song "Defying Gravity" in Wicked, and I'd be the first to nominate Ms. Frasca to be the first to play Elphaba when a Seattle company takes that show on, as she has both the acting and vocal chops for it. As the delicate Beth, porcelain-featured Amanda Louise Carpp is ideally cast, and radiates great charm and gentility. She and Jeff Church, endearing as the crusty but lovable Mr. Laurence, make one of the lesser numbers in the score, "Massachusetts," one of the most genial and touching aspects of the production. Marissa Ryder is a model of gentility and grace as eldest sister Meg, and Morgan Bader is quirkily charming as her eventual husband John Brooke. Michael Kenning is buoyantly appealing as Laurie,the neighbor lad who grows into the ideal husband for Amy, portrayed with youthful sass and spirit by Maddy Kennard. Cindy Bradder is centered, dignified yet never stodgy as the girls' wise Marmee, and her vocals on "Here Alone" and "Days of Plenty" reveal an accomplished singing voice that one hopes to hear more of in future shows. Danny Kam is lovably eccentric as Jo's future husband Professor Bhaer, and completing the company with distinction is Patricia Haines-Ainsworth as both the imposingly haughty Aunt March and the jovial Mrs. Kirk. The musical numbers are staged with impish energy and enviable naturalism by Taryn Darr.
Clearly a case where a show come off better in a more intimate space than on a Broadway stage, I wholeheartedly endorse Little Woman as a warm theatrical treasure, perfectly timed for a holiday season outing.
Little Woman runs through December 29. 2013, at ArtsWest Playhouse, 4711 California Ave SW. For tickets go to www.artswest.org or call 206-938-0339.