Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
North Bay audiences, however, have a marvelous alternative in the form of Little Women, a musical based on Louisa May Alcott's classic tale of the four March sisters making do with less while their papa is off serving as a chaplain to Union troops in the Civil War. With music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and a book by Allan Knee, Little Women is a charming, homespun paean to the virtues of self-sufficiency, honesty, duty and charity.
Beyond the laudable lessons Little Women may have for young (and old) audiences, this Spreckels Theatre production deserves your attention as much for the excellence of its performers as for its example of how to struggle through tough times. Spreckels staged this same production in 2015. I loved it then, and this year's version is even better, thanks in large part to even stronger singers and crisp direction from Michael Ross.
The story centers primarily around Jo March, who is second-oldest in the family, but tops when it comes to spunk and ambition. No quiet housewife life is on the horizon for Joshe wants to see the world, and write thrilling stories about everything she sees. As Jo, Sarah Wintermeyer is marvelously energetic, exhibiting the fearless tomboy elan that makes Jo such a beloved character, especially for young women. It doesn't hurt that she is also in possession of a sweet sopranothat can turn fierce when she needs it, especially in the act two closer, "Astonishing."
There really are no weak spots in the cast. The singers are always on pitch, and have a marvelous sense of harmony that is displayed every time they vocalize as a chorus. But special attention should be drawn to newcomer Albert McLeod, whose gorgeous tenor is already a wonderful instrument, but with time could mature into something spectacular. With his dark, wavy hair and sparkling eyes, he will be perfect for any number of romantic leads. (In a decade or so he would make a marvelous Bobby in Company!) Kudos also to Karen Pinomaki who reprises her role as the wealthy Aunt March with a taut superiority that adds a dash of piquancy to the prevailing sweetness of the March girls. Kirstin Pieschke does stellar work as oldest sister Meg, bringing a comfortable, natural ease to her character, seeming perfectly relaxed on stage, but totally committed to her character.
Music director Lucas Sherman also deserves a heavy dose of praise for leading his tiny ensemble (himself on piano, Lisa Doyle on violin, and Carol Vines on cello) with energy and verve. They are a marvelous chamber accompaniment that is perfectly in tune with the 19th century New England setting. (As are the costumes created by Pamela Enz.) Attention should also be given to the absolutely perfect sound from designer and engineer Jessica Johnson. Though the Bette Condiotti Experimental Theater is a tiny black box space that these strong singers could probably fill on their own, having them mic'd (and perfectly amplified) ensures the audience doesn't miss a single line of dialogue or gorgeous high note.
Little Women runs through December 17th, 2017, in the Bette Condiotti Experimental Theater at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with matinees at 2:00 p.m. on December 3rd, 9th, 10th, 16th and 17th. Tickets are $28 and are available by calling the box office at 707-588-3400. Box office hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The box office is also open one hour before showtime. Additional information is available at www.spreckelsonline.com.