Little Women, The Musical should be a wonderful pre Christmas treat for Alcott fans, but last Saturday night the Citadel Theatre was almost empty. Those who attended were eager to be pleased, but the production by Hammer Entertainment seemed disjointed.
The author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott was truly astonishing. Her fellow townsfolk in Concord, Massachusetts included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. She was a boisterous tom boy with free thinking parents. Little Women (1868), about a young writer, Jo, and her three sisters, Beth, Amy and Meg, was her masterpiece.
It’s an honour to play Jo ( in the cinematic footsteps of Katherine Hepburn and Winona Ryder) and Jill Kooymans, a student at McMaster, is absolutely solid in the role. Jo is meant to be the least attractive and womanly of the sisters, but in fact, in this production, Kooymans is the opposite. A problem, perhaps, but she shines in a cast that struggles to keep up with her.
Kristi Boulton, who plays Beth, the sister who dies of scarlet fever, is so healthy and buoyant (she skips and dances off the stage in the curtain call) that I found it difficult to follow her to the grave, an essential turning point in the story. Nevertheless, her duet with Sean Emberley, the cranky Mr. Laurence, was one of the best moments in the show.
Sister Amy (Olivia Tharme) didn’t play her brattiness young enough and Marmie (Melanie Smith) didn’t play her motherhood old enough. Tharme felt cruel and unlikeable instead of childish and forgivable. Smith’s strength was in song. Her rendition of Here Alone was exquisite. Aunt March, played by Melanie Staley, gave little indication through demeanour or costume that she understood the finer things in life.
Both of Jo’s love interests, Laurie and Professor Bhaer, had trouble showing chemistry. Daniel R Grant as Laurie was handsome, but taut and almost frightened in the role. Brian Munro was an effective Eeyore type as the professor, but a suitor for this Jo? I saw no spark.
Meg’s (Sarah Bayzat) love interest is John Brooke, the tutor, played by Romeo Lingaolingao. His stage energy was infectious but he’s half the size of Meg, which really does matter. Bayzat has a beautiful singing voice, but she was almost non reactive in the play, perhaps because she’s working against type. She and Boulton should have switched roles.
The true bond is meant to be the sisters. We see very little of their closeness except when Beth is dying. She declares her love for Jo, but on Saturday she was more romantic than sisterly.
So what was the problem? Definitely it’s a poorly devised musical (book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland) rushing through the girls lives like a breakaway train. Most of the songs feel like watered down Disney and each act opens with lengthy pantos and pounding piano. But director Krystal Konior also seemed rushed. She needed more time to fine–tune her actors and re–think her casting. And she needed to inspire. From what I saw on Saturday, she left her cast without Alcott’s cherished gifts: courage and direction. V
Until Dec. 14
Presented by Hammer Entertainment
@ Citadel Theatre,