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‘Little Women’: A Critical Review

Nov 5, 2017

  • Overall 80%

The Facts

Play: Little Women: The Broadway Musical

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Director: Terri Kent

Theatre: E. Turner Stump Theatre

Theatre Company: The School of Theatre and Dance

Performance Dates: Nov. 3-Nov. 12, 2017

Run Time: 2.5 hours

Words by Ashlynn Thompson

 

This story follows the life of Jo March, an imaginative writer and woman ahead of her time. She is repeatedly told the proper decorum and place of a woman in the 1860s by her aunt and publishers alike, but she refuses to be anything but herself. She has an unbreakable bond of sisterhood with her siblings, Amy, Meg and Beth, as well as a strong friendship with her neighbor Laurie Laurence. The audience goes on a journey of her vivid imagination for storytelling, experiences with love, both familial and romantic, and the inevitable pains of life.

Directorial Concept

Much of the concept for this musical lies in its set design. Several triangular wood pieces with horizontal panels across their interiors hang from each side of the proscenium, clearly representing the roof of a house. Wood furniture and many more geometric pieces litter the stage, including rectangular and octagonal wood windows, and long steps that add level to the stage. It can be interpreted that these wood pieces were meant to give the audience a sense of the rigidity and strict rules of the time period, especially for women. The panels can be seen as bars that are meant to keep radical ambitions contained from society. This stringency is in sharp contrast to Jo’s sense of independence and firm desire to be more than what society deems correct for a woman. Allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions about aspects of the production is brilliant directing because it pushes viewers to get more invested in the work.

Another superb aspect of the concept occurs when the audience is shown the events of Jo’s stories. As Jo explains, the heroic triumphs and “blood and guts,” actors play out these events in full costume as damsels in distress, brave swordsmen or ugly trolls. This enjoyable element is more effective than simple dialogue because it shows the audience Jo’s active imagination and that she is not confined by the conservative restrictions of her time. Kent outdoes herself with every aspect of her concept.

  • Directorial Concept 100%

 

Elements of Production

Another great aspect of the set is the revolving stage. By this design, the multiple sets do not look congested and crowd the actors, and it allows the audience to focus on one aspect of the space. In addition to the brilliant set, the sound design is very effective in enhancing the production. In particular, when Jo acts out her stories, the lighting and musical notes add to the drama and the adventure of the narratives. The light often highlights a specific actor who the scene or song is about. Finally, the costumes are true to the time period. The best design moment is the final scene where a formal occasion takes place. The elegant embroidery, taffeta and acetate fabrics, which absolutely shine under the stage lights, all perfectly fit the occasion. A standout is wealthy Aunt March’s costume: the sophisticated purple gown, complete with black embroidery and a giant hoop skirt scream luxury and wealth. No aspect of the production is unnecessary or overdone, and they each add something significant.

  • Elements of Production 100%

Acting

Don’t forget this is a musical. The singing from the actresses who play the March sisters is great, each of them with a beautiful soprano voice, and the songs were catchy and enjoyable. Rebecca Rand, who portrays Jo March, has a lovely voice with an impressive range. However, some of the characters over-acted at times. While musicals are, in general, exaggerated to get laughs and light-hearted in nature, I wondered if the actors were trying to outdo each other in how big and dramatic they could be with their voices and movements. This was especially true in scenes between Rand and Antonio Brown, who plays Laurie. I commend Rand on the pages upon pages of dialogue, monologues and songs she had to memorize. No one particularly stood out in terms of acting, except Jess Tanner. She brings depth to the affluent, pompous and old-fashioned Aunt March, who could’ve been one-dimensional with another actor. Tanner is in far too few scenes for her acting talent, but clearly an experienced actor, she reinforces the statement “there are no small parts.”

  • Acting 70%

Why This is Worth Seeing

This musical is enjoyable in terms of its directing, and it is a great way to experience an American classic without actually reading the book. However, the ending is so cliche that it mirrors the endings of just about every single romantic comedy in history. It is disappointing the story starts off with a woman who not only rejects the accepted rules, but redefines gender roles in the 19th century, ends in the same way as many other less progressive works.

Final Thoughts

Not factoring in the cliche finale, the production should be supported for giving several leading roles to female actors. This is not seen as much as it should be in Broadway, television or film, but it is important that all perspectives of life get told with developed and true-to-life characters.

Contact Ashlynn at athomp84@kent.edu.