Stages St. Louis has made a courageous gesture toward returning live theater to downtown St. Louis with an energetic and (as usual) meticulously prepared and staged production of Little Women, the 2005 Broadway adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic. The Roberts Orpheum theatermore familiar to some as the American Theateris a lovely space, well maintained and welcoming. With the unfortunate exception of the sound system it is technically an order of magnitude more sophisticated than the Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood's Community Center, where Stages normally performs.
Interestingly, James Wolk, who is certainly among the very best designers working in St. Louis, gives this production a spare but efficient set which could, with a modification or two, have worked in Kirkwood. Typically, everything is beautifully finished. The same careful attention to detail is apparent in Lou Bird's opulent costumes, which both express the period accurately and capture something of the appealing characteristics of the March family and their friends. His gowns for Aunt March are perfectly logical and quite funny at the same time, and his clothes for Marmee and Jo are masterpieces of understated thoughtfulness.
It goes without saying that the direction and choreography are first-rate; Dana Lewis's choreography, like the costumes, seems to be as much about expressing the individual characters of the ladies (and gentlemenespecially Laurie) as it is about ensemble movement. Michael Hamilton's direction is sure-handed and reflectsagaincareful attention to even the smallest details of movement and stage picture.
Casey Erin Clark, in her debut with Stages, brings a wealth of experience and talent to the role of Jo, and delivers a heartfelt and immensely appealing performance that drawsand deservesa standing ovation. Mary Jane Raleigh, also appearing at Stages for the first time, is steady and utterly convincing as Marmee. The incomparable Zoe Vonder Haar is a delight as the irascible Aunt March. Ben Nordstrom makes a most appealing Laurie, and Michael Shawn Lewis, another debut artist, contributes a charming turn as the shy Professor Bhaer.
Louisa May Alcott's story, familiar surely to almost every American who has ever read a book, gets a reasonably accurate condensation from Allan Knee. Most importantly, the characters of the March sisters are faithfully transcribed to the stage. Jason Howland's musicwith lyrics by Mindi Dicksteinis unfortunately not as inspired; few of the tunes are memorable, and the lyrics are often rather pedestrian. It doesn't help that the sound system at the Orpheum seems to be more suited to concerts than to theater, and makes the music at times uncomfortably loud.
But these are minor considerations. All in all, Stages's holiday production of Little Women is bright, colorful, and nicely nostalgica wonderful evening for the entire family. It will run at the Roberts Orpheum Theater on North 9th Street (just south of Washington Avenue) through December 20. Parking could not be easier; there's a secure garage right across the street from the theater. It's great to see the grand old theater space alive again. For ticket information, call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org.