The last straw is the mocktails in the lobby. At the Kennedy Center’s production of Little Women, one can order a non-alcoholic beverage named after the March sister of their choice. The appeal of Little Women lies in its Quaker values and glorification of family ties—classless marketing ploys are simply not a part of that, Gentle Reader.
For anyone who hasn’t read the book (shame!) or seen the myriad movie adaptations, Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel chronicles the lives of four sisters growing up in Civil War-era Massachusetts. Romantic Meg (Renee Brna), rebellious Jo (Kate Fisher), angelic Beth (Autumn Hurlbert), and bratty Amy (Gwen Hollander) are raised by Quaker parents and are taught to always do the right thing.
As a warning for those have heretofore evaded any version of Little Women, this new musical depends heavily on previous knowledge of the characters—so a trip to Blockbuster may be in order before purchasing tickets. However, if one is seeing the show purely due to the presence of Maureen McGovern in the cast, the diva is in fine voice and won’t disappoint. Her role as the March matriarch has ballooned in keeping with her celebrity status, which doesn’t aid the pacing of the musical, but does allow McGovern several inspiring songs. The rest of the cast is in excellent voice as well, though the acting uniformly lacks nuance or wit. The exception is Stephen Patterson, as next-door neighbor Laurie, who offers a wonderful, endearing performance. Laurie’s eventual fate is one of the great injustices of literature, and it is made all the worse by Patterson’s charm and likability.
Though Jason Howland’s music is filled with beautiful harmonies, this adaptation is anything but skillful, depending on its strong source material to see it through Mindi Dickstein’s poorly-thought-out lyrics and Allan Knee’s pallid dialogue. Though Little Women is beloved by girls of every age, this status is largely due to its unpretentious and well-written characters. The names have transferred to this stage version, but the quality of the storytelling is sadly depleted. The staging occupies itself with clumsy slapstick and completely misses the sense if simple fun that makes the March sisters so endearing.
The stage is cavernous—for a poor family, the Marches certainly possess a gargantuan house—and as a result, there is little sense of the family closeness that sets Little Women apart. Director Susan H. Schulman, aided by the adapters of this musical version, have included everything that is pedestrian and very little that is appealing about Little Women.