By Richard Pacheco
“Little Women: The Musical”, which takes on the novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, is a pleasant enough look at novel which seems to lack full, deeper characters, instead content to dwell more on the surface of traits and events while lacking the nuance and details that makes that vivid onstage. If it has a saving grace, it lies in the talented cast who manage to bring some of the lacking qualities to the fore.
The musical adheres to the book in that the novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood, and is loosely based on the author and her three sisters. The novel has been read as a romance or as a quest, or both and so does the musical. Alcott created a new form of literature, one that took elements from Romantic children’s fiction and combined it with others from sentimental novels, resulting in a totally new format.
Jo is the sister who longs to be a writer and the book charts her journey from a wannabe to a paid writer and her artistic odyssey from melodramatic tragedies to a more realistic grounded tale about her and her sisters. Tess Jonas is Jo, the young woman with passion for writing and desire to avoid the traps of what is appropriate for a woman of those times as she does her best to avoid romance to replace writing. That does not mean she manages to avoid interest from the males around, just that she wants to deflect it away from her and her artistic goals. Jonas has a strong voice and vivid presence. She deftly delivers on Jo’s feisty personality, her dedication to her ideals and her unflinching rebel desire to not compromise. It is a winning performance and her voice shines with poise and elegance.
Sister Beth is sheer sweetness and kindness. She is the epitome of caring for her sisters, her relentless love of them. She is the peacemaker, determined and dedicated to keep the family loving each other no matter what comes up. Bryn Martin plays Beth with sincerity and conviction.
Sister Amy in the youngest and the one who wants desperately to be part of high society no matter what it takes. It makes her pompous and at times condescending, not appreciating others values and ambitions and often at odds with Jo. Abigail McMahon si Amy and she handles the role with verve and is vividly convincing handling the demands of this superficial and society obsessed young woman.
Meg is the oldest sister, who earns for a great and conventional life complete with marriage and children. She is the epitome of those desires. Alison Novelli is on target with the role, skillfully portraying the honesty and conviction of Meg.
Marmee is there mother, a strong determined woman who takes care of the family while her husband is off in the Civil War as a chaplain for the Union Army. She is dedicated to her daughters and keeping the family together and united despite any difficulties which might ensue. Artistic Director Aimee Tuner handles with role with grace and earnestness. She is poised and determined in the role.
Laurie is the grandson of the somewhat cranky neighbor, Mister Laurence. Michael Luongo is Laurie. He handles his puppy dog attraction for Jo with dexterity and facility.
Professor Bhaer is a teacher whom Jo meets in New York who becomes her friend and supporter. Tommy Labinaris plays him with the right amount of stiffness and proper gentleman of the era style.
Mr. Lwasrence is usually pristine and proper, very stiff in his dealings with people but does have a softer side. Curt Danham handles the role with zest and elegance.
John Brooke is Laurie’s tutor who is enchanted by Meg. Kevin Patrick Martin is effective in the role.
Also on hand are Aunt March and Mrs. Kirk who runs the boardinghouse in New York, both played by Staci Morin with zest and style giving each character a distinction and definite personality.
Director and choreographer Ethan Paulini keeps the pacing for the most part deft and on target.
Scenic designer Cliftin Chadick creates an intriguing space that is a mixture of real and dream with the back wall full of flowing white fabric and the structure, more hinted than real in the middle that offers a suggestion, a hint of building.
Any issues here are with the show itself, not the performances which are excellent. The Jason Howland music is engaging enough and the book by Allen Knee is faithful enough to the novel, but the Mindi Diskstein lyrics are uneven, at times on the mark at others, sorely lacking.
“Little Women” runs through March 19 at Ocean State Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. Evening performances stat at 7:30 and matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $39-$59. Call (401) 921-6800, or visit oceanstatetheatre.org..