Colonial Players' production of "Little Women, The Musical" rises above much of the show's material, making it a worthy holiday offering to alternate with the Players' traditional "Christmas Carol," a favorite that will not be presented this year.
An inspired choice of family entertainment, CP's production of the musical version of Louisa May Alcott's 19th-century novel brings to life the Civil War-era experiences of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, Amy and their mother, Marmee. Interspersed at scene changes and enhancing the holiday mood are traditional carols sung by nine singers in solo and chorus.
The musical, written by Allan Knee, made its debut on Broadway in 2005, with music by Jason Howland. Mindi Dickerson's lyrics offer glimpses of the March sisters growing up in Concord, Mass., under difficult financial circumstances while their father is at war.
Centering on free-spirited, ambitious Jo, who acts out her swashbuckling adventure stories, the action follows the girls' encounters with a feisty neighbor boy, his curmudgeonly grandfather, a demanding spinster aunt and various boys who become the sisters' suitors. Together, the March sisters meet the challenges of reaching adulthood by pursuing education and career, or marriage and family.
Those familiar with Alcott's semiautobiographical novel may find this musical version to have sketchily drawn characters weighed down by a score that is often vapid and incongruous to the 1860s period. However, audience members may still leave inspired by Colonial Players' portrayal of authentic young women who reflect such strong determination in adversity.
"Alcott's four sisters not only served as models for her characters but also as the ideal for generations of girls," director Beverly van Joolen said. "Each sister struggled with and overcame shortcomings, and so offered a standard for all."
Cast members prepared for their roles by touring Civil War-era sites in Annapolis. They also learned how to wear hoops and uniforms. The staff and crew sewed more than 100 costume pieces, and scoured local antiques stores and eBay to find period skates, postage stamps and other props.
An outstanding performance is given by Emily Sergo, who brings high energy and superb athleticism, along with strong acting and vocal talents, to the demanding role of Jo. Sergo's Jo is a high-spirited girl who becomes a more disciplined woman, eventually accepting others' shortcomings and her own before reaching the maturity to offer her love to a quiet professor.
Wendy Baird projects a tranquil strength and loving maternal wisdom as Marmee, while displaying a pleasing singing voice in "Here Alone.".
Conveying the frustration and vulnerability of the youngest sibling, Amy, is 13-year-old Severn student Hallie Parrott, who is appearing in her third CP production.
Playing the older, sensitive Amy is Karen Grim. Grim delivers a compelling performance, communicating her devotion to Jo and her family as well as her strength in adversity.
Bronwyn van Joolen plays caring, kind Beth, who charms curmudgeonly Mr. Lawrence into parting with his prized piano. She later joins with Jo to sing a poignant "Some Things are Meant to Be."
After spending much time behind the scenes producing costumes for recent shows, Kaelynn Miller returns to CP's stage to play romantic Meg, who finds love with Mr. Brooke (Chris Leabhart), joining in a heartfelt duet of "More Than I Am."
Beth Terranova creates a fearsome Aunt March, elegantly gliding in her lovely costumes, convincing us that she could elevate the deportment of all.
The 19-year-old Jeffrey Walter gives a bravado performance in the major role of neighbor Laurie, delivering a memorable "Take a Chance on Me" and a later romantic duet "The Most Amazing Thing," finding love with Grim's Amy.
As grumpy Mr. Lawrence, Ed Wintermute adds another fine performance with his fine singing of the authentic-sounding "Off to Massachusetts."
Kevin James Logan makes a strong CP debut as Professor Bhaer, elevating his songs "How I Am" and "Small Umbrellas in the Rain" to a loftier level than they might otherwise have achieved.
The show runs weekends through Dec. 3, with tickets priced at $10 for children under 12, $15 for students and seniors, and $20 for adults. For tickets call the box office at 410-268-7373 or go to thecolonialplayers.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times