Posts Tagged ‘Louisa May Alcott’

This musical theatre adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel by Jason Howard, Allan Knee & Mindi Dickstein is sixteen years old now, though it didn’t get to the UK until four years ago, at that new musical theatre powerhouse The Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. That same production now gets its London premiere. I never read the novel, and have only seen one of the handful of stage, opera, TV & film adaptations in my lifetime, but it was only three years ago so I didn’t come to this completely cold.

The little women are sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, living in New England with their mother while their dad is serving as an army chaplain in the American Civil War. Wannabe writer Jo has gone to the big apple to try and get published and each act starts at her lodgings there before the main story back home in flashback. Their neighbour Mr Lawrence and his son and the March’s maiden aunt are important parts of the extended family. Jo hopes to travel with her aunt, but she switches her favours to younger sister Amy and takes her to Europe. Both Meg and Amy get married and Beth becomes seriously ill. It looks like Jo may be left ‘on the shelf’.

The book of the musical seems faithful to the novel, though I thought the two scenes enacting Jo’s latest stories before the flashbacks were a bit ambitious for a small stage. The second half is way more successful than the first, which really needs some cuts and an increase in pace. Like the story, the score took time to gain momentum and both were a bit twee and sentimental for my taste, but it won me over with some lovely tunes, excellent string orchestrations beautifully played by Leo Munby’s band, and Bronagh Lagan’s staging.

It’s a very strong ensemble, showcasing a number of new graduates, with the four sisters – Hana Ichijo, Lydia White, Anastasia Martin & Mary Moore – developing their very different characters extremely well. Savannah Stevenson provides an emotional anchor as Marmee, with particularly fine vocals. The supporting cast are all very good, with Bernadine Pritchett having great fun with Aunt March and Ryan Bennett coming into his own as Professor Bhaer as the role develops.

It needs a bit of work on the first half and it could do with losing 15 minutes or so, but its still well worth seeing in its present form nonetheless, provided you can stomach a bit of quintessentially American sentimentality.

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I’m not familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s mid-19th century book about four sisters growing up during the American Civil War, but I was expecting something more sweet and sentimental. Lionel Segal and Peter Layton’s musical is really rather good and this is its UK stage premiere.

The four sisters grow up whilst their father is away in the war and subsequently hospitalised. Budding writer Jo is feisty and independent. Meg just wants to get married and settle down. Beth is the homemaker whose becomes seriously ill. Amy is the precocious young one who grows up most, with the help of what seems like four mothers. Rather a lot is packed into a couple of hours, but it doesnt seem rushed – the story is well told and the characters develop.

It’s a fine cast, with the acting honours belonging to the four young actresses playing the sisters, who really do seem like sisters – Claire Chambers as Meg, Laura Hope London (what a great name!) as Beth, Caroline Rodgers (who grows up before your very eyes) as Amy and, most especially, a terrifically assured Jo from Charlotte Newton John (any relation?), a double for East Enders Janine if ever I saw one! Theres a lovely cameo from veteran Myra Sands as feisty Aunt March and another from Jane Quinn as local busybody Miss Crocker.

With a handful of props, it occasionally looks a bit lost on the somewhat large, well, Lost Theatre stage, but otherwise Nicola Samer’s staging if very effective – using a room above, the front auditorium floor and four entrances for a large number of scenes and a fair few locations. Its a good score, with the songs moving the story forward well, played by a hidden five-piece (?) band led by Sarah Latto. Natalie Moggridge’s design plays a huge role in creating both place and period.

This is quality fringe fare in a well run venue just 4 miles from my home, which I hadn’t discovered until now. For the fringe, its a big auditorium to fill (180 seats) but they managed it last night (albeit a Saturday and the final performance). Purpose built and opened just a couple of years ago, the seating and sight lines are good – as are the loos! Good show. Good value. Good theatre. If it wasnt the last performance last night, Id be telling you to go!

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