By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — The four sisters and the matriarch of the tightly knit March family sing their way through the Anderson University musical production of “Little Women,” opening this weekend at the Boze Lyric Theatre in Byrum Hall. A talented cast, creatively costumed and choreographed, is accompanied by an orchestra in the pit to bring the story to life.
James Leagre directs the AU production. The musical was written by Allen Knee. Music was written by Jason Howland with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The orchestra is led by John Huntoon.
The story of "Little Women" is based on Lousia May Alcott's classic work. The inimitable Jo (Chelsea Leis), flighty Amy (Olivia Gnagey), solid Meg (Emily Bobel) and otherworldly Beth (Timyaek Barton) are the young women who bloom under the loving gaze of their mother, Marmee (Marisa Vogel), the beady attention of their aunt (Devan Cooney) and the attentions of several men. While the insular family copes with their father’s absence during the Civil War where he serves as a chaplain, each of the women embraces their own aspirations and shares in joys, tributlations and the tragedy of loss.
The cast is full of lovely voices, expressive faces and characters that elicit our empathy. The play is visually rich with imaginative costuming and choreography. The work brings a naïve charm, carried along by numerous songs which range from moody emotional fare to lively and upbeat, with several lovely duets. The play in rehearsal, however, was not without its challenges for the audience. Both the length of the performance and audibility of performers posed difficulties which will perhaps show improvement in production.
The women, garbed in an impressive collection of color-coded period fashion, dominate the stage. Chelsea Leis, as Jo, is the golden thread that weaves her way through the show. Leis does a great job of developing her character, displaying the full range of emotions and personal growth.
Marisa Vogel as Marmee March is beautifully expressive in songs demonstrating how she misses her husband and later describing her grief. Olivia Hacker makes a formidable Aunt March. The play’s men are also well portrayed. Morton Garringer as Laurie Laurence makes a nice sort of 19th century Justin Timberlake – affable, easygoing and fun. Otis Jeffries as Professor Bhaer strikes just the right balance between stuffy academic and tender romantic. Josh Maldonado as John Brooke delivers exactly the right look and squeaky voice of one struck by love at first sight.
There are some delightful devices employed in AU’s “Little Women.” When Elizabeth Ewigleben flits across the stage like a blue fairy and sets a sea shell down, you know you are at the beach. And when Timyael Barton as Beth March tugs on the kite, the audience is in for a beautiful metaphor. The play incorporates a brief but vivid play-within-a play where imagination rules, largely courtesy of costumers Natalie Maenhout and Cindra Venturella and choreographer Kenny Shepard.
While the production has many charming aspects, in rehearsal the actors were frequently overpowered by the orchestra, particularly scenes played out predominately upstage. Even downstage, there were moments when the projection of the actors is insufficient to follow dialogue or lyrics, especially when coupled with the accompaniment of the orchestra or the sound of other activity on the stage. No timing gaffes leapt out during rehearsal, and yet, the play was inordinately long. Intermission came a full one hour and a half into the production. Including a ten-minute break, the play in total ran beyond three hours.Finally, while this production of “Little Women” resonates deeply in terms of human compassion, the musical twist on the classic work is perhaps somewhat inauthentic.
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If you go: What: Musical production "Little Women" by Jason Howland, based on Louisa May Alcott's book, directed by James Leagre Where: Boze Lyric Theatre in Byrum Hall on the Anderson University Campus When: Oct. 4,5 at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 6, 2:30 p.m., Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 12, 13, 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 senior/military, $5 student. Call the box office for tickets at 641-4140.