LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL presented by Northern Kentucky University through Oct. 9. You can read the show description here.
For me, the problem with stage adaptations of literary works is that they tend to jump quickly from plot point to plot point and they tend run long, especially the musicals. NKU’s production of LITTLE WOMEN is very successful in tackling these challenges to create a satisfying production.
Director Sandra Forman’ casting of the sisters is spot on. All the young women give convincing performances and bring an energy and uniqueness appropriate to each character. Harli Cooper as Amy in her journey from the brat of the family to a sophisticated young lady. Katie Berger as Beth, the wise-beyond-her-years sibling who can even melt the heart of crabby old Mr. Laurence. Carmyn Howe as as oldest sister Meg, from socially timid to young mother. The bulk of the show rests on the capable shoulders and voice of Monica Tenhover, as driven dreamer Jo. Smart, independent and willful, Tenhover accurately portrays all these traits, showing them as strengths and burdens in Jo’s life.
Brooke Rucidlo turns in an appropriately subdued performance as Marmee (the mother) and her solo “Here Alone” is a highlight of the show. Blair Godshall gives a very fun characterization of demanding spinster Aunt March. I wouldn’t mind seeing the character taken a little further, perhaps using her cane as an extension of her hand or it used in other character-appropriate ways, just not to the point of stealing focus.
Seth Wallen portrays Professor Bhaer, Jo’s New York German tutor and companion. He handles the role well and gives a solid performance with his solo, “How I Am.” However, as a man in his mid-thirties, I’d expect an established, set-in-his-ways professional like Bhaer to be socially awkward with a woman like Jo, where the characterization came off more school-boyish. Without any age makeup, Wallen looks younger than the character.
Drew Blakeman gives an appropriately charismatic turn as Laurie. Good energy throughout his performance and he handles his solo, “Take a Chance on Me,” well with great personality. Blakeman and Tenhover succeed in establishing Laurie and Jo’s relationship at their first meeting.
The same can be said for the first meeting of Meg and Mr. Brooke (played by Matt Krieg). For their duet, “More Than I Am,” I felt Howe and Krieg’s singing styles didn’t blend well together. It also seemed like Matt’s vocals were stiffly tied to the tempo of the music.
Andy Simpson plays neighbor and Laurie’s grandfather, Mr. Laurence. The beginning of his first scene was a bit problematic. His deep, booming voice worked against him in the confrontation and it came off more as yelling than curmudgeonish indignation. Perhaps his mic was too hot? His scenes with Beth work, as does their duet, but the attitude change seems too abrupt when he comes in so emotionally high. Physically the character seems a bit spry for a grandfather and perhaps a shorter (or thinned out) hairstyle would help the graying look a bit more natural.
The Cape Cod scene between Beth and Jo was extremely touching and a favorite moment in the show. For that scene, I would like to have seen Beth with a second, older hairstyle like the other sisters.
The orchestra under the direction of Jamey Strawn sounded rich and full. In a few numbers, when the music swelled near the end, the volume started to match the vocals. This was particularly noticeable in the Act II opener, “The Weekly Volcano Press,” which became muddled when everyone was singing. These issues may be more a sound problem than an orchestra problem.
The four distinct playing areas of the set worked well. The three actors did look a bit penned in downstage right for the one New York scene.
For the attic platform, I wouldn’t have minded another foot or so to give it even more height in contrast to the parlor. Also, the placement of the parlor door made for some long entrances and exits. It may been better place more stage right.
The outline of a house works as a strong visual element and is more interesting than simply using a scrim backdrop. It would have been great if the attic window could have been incorporated into it somehow, but I’m not sure it’s possible without making it look cluttered or out of place. The frame of the house suddenly ending near the bottom of each vertical edge does give it an unfinished look.
A quick note to the set crew. I know you are working hard to make the down stage set changes as quick as possible and you did that. But since the audience can see you, you want to rush but not looked panicked. Set changes are a part of live theater and we understand that.
Bottom line, LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL is a satisfying production and continued evidence of NKU’s strengthening theater program.
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