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Little Women the musical (Susan Elkin reviews)

Little Women the Musical
Book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, music by Jason Howland. Based on the novel by Louisa M Alcott.
society/company: Cambridge Theatre Company
performance date: 12 Jan 2019
venue: ADC Theatre, Cambridge

This musical version of Little Women was completely new to me. Much of Jason Howland’s music is lovely and it deserves to be much better known. It opened for a short run on Broadway in 2005 and then toured the US. There was a production at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester in 2017 but nonetheless this is a show off most people’s radar which is a pity. Off to Massachusetts is great fun, for example, and the proposal duet Small Umbrella in the Rainis fine and imaginative piece of writing.

Yes, there’s plenty of fine material here for a high flying (although still only four years old) community company to work on. And Cambridge Theatre Company certainly rises to the challenge admirably.

Allan Knee’s book and Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics create a very sympathetic and respectful account of Louisa M Alcott’s famous, feisty, quasi feminist American Civil War novel about a relatively impoverished, middle class family of four daughters whose father is away in the war.

Emma Vieceli is splendid as the central character Jo, the impetuous, independent daughter with ambitions to write professionally (a loose self-portrait of Alcott herself). Vieceli, who sings with warmth, strength, accuracy and sensitivity, catches all the conflict Jo deals with between love for her family and passion to succeed. She’s an eloquent actor too and it will be a long time before my image of Jo March as a literary character ceases to have Vieceli’s expressive face.

In the support roles there’s some top notch singing from Cat Nicol as the girls’ mother. Eleanor Thompson is delightful as Beth the piano playing sister who later becomes ill and Ekaterina Rahr-Bohr, as the youngest sister Amy deals with the complexities of the role with real flair. Her character is spitefully jealous but she’s no Austenian Lydia Bennett and eventually redeems herself. Caroline Dyson is, as ever, good value as the judgemental Aunt March – her soaring contralto voice works especially well in ensemble numbers – and Davinia Fisher brings the right level of worried maturity to the eldest sister, Meg.

The men are strong too. You can see why Meg falls for Matt Gregory’s attractively voiced John Brooke and Andrew Ruddick’s sardonic but ultimately coy Professor Bhaer convinces us that, yes, Jo might just succumb. Leo Stewart Oakley is persuasive as Laurie too and Richard Sockett, a very reliable Cambridge stalwart, is good as the initially irascible but later warmly supportive neighbour Mr Laurence.

Also very impressive is the (unseen) the twelve piece band led by James Harvey. There’s some very exposed string solo work in this score along with lots of different styles, rhythms and effects. And it all comes off with aplomb in this production.

Keep them coming, CTC. You may be in your infancy but you go from strength to strength and I’m already looking forward to the five further shows you have scheduled for later this year.

 First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Cambridge%20Theatre%20Company%20-Little%20Women%20the%20Musical&reviewsID=3451
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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