A Moving Adaptation: “Little Women”

Photo by Nile Scott Studios; The March women in “Little Women.”

Presented by Wheelock Family Theater at Boston University:/ 
Music by Jason Howland
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Book by Allan Knee
Based on the Book, “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Nick Vargas
Music Directed by Jon Goldberg
Choreography by Laurel Conrad

Performance dates: Jan 31 – Feb 23, 2020

Wheelock Family Theater at Boston University, 
180 Riverway
Boston, MA
Wheelock on Facebook 

Review by Chloé Cunha

Boston, MA — Like anybody who grew up with an overactive imagination and an abundance of energy, I have fond memories of exploring fantastical worlds as a kid. My mum used to transform her bed into a space ship, her bedroom, an alien planet. A whir and a hum and we were off, her narration painting the room around us into a whole new galaxy.

In Little Women, Jo likewise transports her sisters into enchanting reveries through her writing. They waltz through their living room wearing funny hats and wielding feather dusters as swords. The stories themselves are fun, but it’s the shared experience of their reenactment that makes them meaningful. Wheelock Family Theatre’s production is a celebration of childhood joy, artistic devotion, and love of family, particularly the powerful bonds of sisterhood. It’s a moving adaptation that speaks to the enduring timelessness of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel. 

Little Women chronicles the coming of age of Jo March (Sirena Abalian) and her three sisters, Meg (Kira Troilo), Beth (Abigail Mack), and Amy (Emilia Tagliani). As they all grow up and start to express different interests and desires (some romantic), Jo struggles to accept their shifting sisterly dynamic. She decides to make a dramatic change herself, moving to New York to become a writer. It’s there that she reflects on her upbringing, and comes to an important revelation about her motivations as an artist.

As someone who admittedly was not familiar with the story– I might have been the only middle school girl to have somehow missed this book– I can’t speak to how this musical compares to the source material. The story is told primarily through a series of interwoven vignettes, snapshots of daily life. Particularly effective was the staging of Jo’s stories as she narrated them out loud, other actors playing the characters with campy exaggeration around her.

The first half was a bit slow, as there was a lot of exposition to get through. While each scene was charming, at times they felt disconnected from each other rather than part of a cohesive whole. The second Act however was well-paced and led to some extremely satisfying narrative payoff. For example, early on Beth has a surprising duet with the curmudgeonly Mr. Laurence (Neil Gustafson), as he joins her at the piano unexpectedly, brightening his usually sour demeanor. Later when she is sick and he gifts her his lavish piano, the tenderness of that moment feels all the more poignant.

The cast performed beautifully, with some terrific singing all around. Sirena Abalian shined as the lead, demonstrating both excellent comedic timing and a profound emotional range. The entire March family– and honorary March, Laurie (Maxwell Seelig)– had wonderful chemistry together, and Leigh Barrett as the matriarch Marmee was equally impressive. Finally both Jared Troilo (Professor Bhaer) and and Dwayne P. Mitchell (Mr. Brooke) were a joy to watch, the former for his dorky charm, and the latter for his exceptional voice and melodramatic swagger as the villain in Jo’s stories.

The set was busy but not distracting, bursting with detail, lace cloth hanging from drawers, trunks and lamps and knickknacks strewn about everywhere. As a result the March house felt lived-in, alive with the kind of chaos that might arise naturally from the girls’ frequent adventuring.

Ultimately, Little Women invites you into its home. It’s warm, and funny, and deeply touching– a small story that makes itself feel immense. It might not be a distant planet or a tropical island, but it’s well worth the visit.

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