Artisan Center Theater
Directed by Eve Roberts
Choreographer – Nicole Holbrook
Music Director – H. Richard Gwozdz
Costume Design – Rebecca Roberts
Set Design – Nate Davis
Lighting Design – Nate Davis
Sound Design – Rick Blair and Nate Davis
CAST (as appearing during reviewed performance):
Jo March – Meredith Stowe
Meg/Clarissa – Kristina Bain
Beth/Rodrigo II – Rebecca Roberts
Amy/The Troll – Morgan Gerdes
Marmee/The Hag – Judi Conger
Aunt March/Mrs. Kirk – Cheryl Coward King
Laurie/Rodrigo – Clint Gilbert
John Brooke/Braxton – Tim Brawner
Professor Bhaer – Brian Sears
Mr. Laurence/The Knight – Eric Gentry
Photos by Al Smith
Reviewed Performance 11/15/2013
Reviewed by Teri Rogers, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical 19th century novel, Little Women The Musical centers around the four March sisters – romantic Meg, adventurous Jo, shy Beth, self-centered Amy – and their mother, Marmee. The powerful score soars with songs of personal discovery and hope, weaving an honest tale of growing up, loving, and letting go.
Set in Civil War-era New England, the musical begins with the aspiring writer, Jo, facing yet another literary rejection. She wonders if she wasn’t happier back home with her sisters and mother, crafting sagas and performing operas in the family’s attic. Just as she expresses this thought, we are transported out of a New York boarding house and into the March family attic, bursting at the seams with youthful energy and high hopes for the future.
The relationship between the sisters and their mother is the heart of the story, and the cast of Artisan Center Theater’s Little Women The Musical plays beautifully off one another to portray the loving and tumultuous family with which readers are so familiar.
Few literary characters are as relatable and revered as Miss Jo March, and Meredith Stowe has her work cut out for her with her portrayal of the tomboyish heroine. She does not disappoint. Meredith Stowe commands the stage with her powerful vocals and energetic performance. Her deliberately awkward movements perfectly suit young Jo and her body language and mannerisms transition beautifully to the tamed but not broken New York author. She fully embodies Jo as dreamer, writer and explorer and is a pure joy to watch. It is a shame that standing ovations during the performance are not a theater tradition, because when Meredith Stowe belts out the final notes of “Astonishing”, you’ll simply want to jump up and applaud.
Early on, Jo is pursued by the eager boy-next-door, Laurie. Clint Gilbert (filling in for an out of town J. Mendl) brings such enthusiasm and boyish charm to the role that you can’t help but smile when he walks onstage. Gilbert also has some of the strongest pipes in the cast and I just wanted to get up and dance during his performance of “Take a Chance on Me.”
Older sister Meg has some dreams of her own, though hers focus on marrying well and moving on from her unrewarding job as a governess. Sometimes Kristina Bain’s delivery feels a bit too modern, but she finds humor in unlikely lines and overall her performance is quite enjoyable. Her legit soprano voice is just lovely and her turn as Clarissa is absolutely hilarious.
Meg’s suitor comes in the form of John Brooke, riotously played by Tim Brawner. Brawner’s physical comedy skills bring this nervous character to life in the most pleasing way. The faces he pulls during his doubled performance as the villainous Braxton are straight out of a Marx Brothers’ film and his comic timing is sublime.
Second youngest sister Beth is played with delicate sensitivity by Rebecca Roberts. While in the first couple of scenes her performance seems to make Beth a bit more neurotic than shy, she finds her footing quickly and becomes the quiet, reserved young girl who breaks our hearts. Roberts’ light vocals perfectly suit the character and her duet with Jo in “Some Things Are Meant to Be” is one of the highlights of the show.
Pretentious and selfish young Amy is brought to life by Morgan Gerdes, whose strong voice and excellent physicality manage to bring out the brattiness of the youngest child and her transformation into a mature young lady. In Act I, Gerdes pouts, schlumps and drapes herself over the furniture when Amy doesn’t get her way. No one throws a tantrum like she does! When Amy returns from Europe in the second act, Gerdes stands a bit taller, moves a bit more gracefully and holds her head a bit higher – not haughtily now but nobly. “The Most Amazing Thing”, her duet with Laurie, is absolutely adorable.
Judi Conger’s warm performance as Marmee is both powerful and heartbreaking. While her scenes with the girls are wonderful, it is when Conger is all alone on stage that she truly shines. We don’t often think of Marmee as being lonely, but in “Here Alone” Judi Conger uses simple vocal and facial expressions and humble gestures to expertly pull the audience into the heart of a care-worn woman left to raise her children by herself while burdened by the absence of her loving husband who is away at war. She exudes love and strength, all exemplified in her beautiful vocals. One of the most difficult songs for anyone to perform, “Days of Plenty,” is so perfectly sung by Conger that the audience swells in tears as one.
As the cantankerous and tradition-loving Aunt March, Cheryl Coward King delivers an uproarious performance. With one look, she silences the outspoken Jo and sends the audience into fits of laughter. King doubles as boarding house landlady Mrs. Kirk and brings a different but equally enjoyable comedic take to the nosy woman. Mr. Laurence, the curmudgeonly next-door neighbor of the March family and grandfather to Laurie, is played with excellent energy by Eric Gentry. He provides a foil to quiet Beth, and after she warms his heart in the duet “Off to Massachusetts”, Gentry wisely utilizes a softer voice and gentle mannerisms, quickly reverting to abrasiveness again when discussing his grandson.
The dignified and somewhat bumbling (at least around Jo) Professor Bhaer is played with great decorum by Brian Sears. While the German accent isn’t perfect, the intentionally maladroit movement and delivery are spot on, and Sears turns this potentially comic character into a fully realized distinguished man. His superb vocal talents make one wish there were more songs for Bhaer. Sears makes the most of what he is given though, and by the end I wanted nothing more than to stand with him beneath his “Small Umbrella in the Rain.”
Music Director Richard Gwozdz does a fabulous job balancing the voices of the talented cast. The harmonies are tight and no one singer overpowers another. The vocal phrasing crafted by Gwozdz is gracefully performed by each vocalist, especially in “Some Things Are Meant to Be” and “The Fire Within Me.” The delightful recorded tracks provide a wonderful accompaniment to each singer, and aside from a few microphone glitches each person could be easily heard both singing and speaking.
The design aspects of this show are absolutely beautiful. The sounds of Christmas music welcome the audience before the show and remind us again at intermission of the wintery world that the sunny March girls inhabit. The set by Nate Davis fills the entire playing area and the walls behind each section of seating. Inspired by the cover design of the novel as well as the Alcott’s Concord dwelling, the warmth and lived-in feeling of this period home are created with bits of antique furniture and era-specific artwork. Davis’ lighting complements the set’s tones and helps to create stunning tableaux throughout the show. Costumes by Rebecca Roberts, while a little short with some of the hoop skirts, are dazzlingly beautiful and perfectly suited to each character. Amy’s voluminous and lacy wedding dress and all of Aunt March’s garments are particular standouts. The men are smartly outfitted in period suits and Roberts successfully recreates everything from a military uniform for John Brooke to a raffishly- ragged troll ensemble.
While this isn’t a musical with huge dance numbers, there are still a few upbeat tunes with spirited dancing to match. If Nicole Holbrook’s choreography doesn’t make you want to hop up and bust into a jig, I don’t know what will. Full of energy and period appropriate steps, the choreography adds life and vibrancy to this heartwarming tale, and it’s obvious the actors are enjoying themselves, too!
The March family is alive and well in this fabulous production by Artisan Center Theater. Grab your sisters, mother and a jacket (it’s a bit chilly in the theater) and head out to this marvelous family show.
LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL
Artisan Center Theater
418 E. Pipeline Road
Hurst, Texas 76053
Runs through December 21st.
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday at 7:30 pm, and Saturday at 3:00 and 7:30 pm
Tickets Mon., Tues., Thurs. are $14.00 and $7.00 for children. On weekends, tickets are $18.00, $16.00 for seniors/students and $9.00 for children.
For info & to purchase tix go to artisanct.com or call the box office at 817-284-1200