As an English major it is fair to say that Little Women is a familiar text to me. With a Christmassy warmth that eludes comfort and a longing to grow up in the March house, I was excited to see how a favourite book and movie (hello Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version) would take to the stage. I was especially intrigued by how they would handle certain events that I knew would be coming due to a knowledge of the book (spoilers ahead in this article, you have been warned!). So, with slight trepidation and uncertainty I took my seat to watch a literary classic transpose from the book to the stage.
The first thing that any audience wishing to see a musical will note is, shocker, the music. Now, this was an amateur production, at a university performed by students who have limited time and full time degrees to be getting on with. What I mean by this is that there are certain allowances you give amateur performances with smaller budgets and less time, meaning I was not expecting the quality of performance that I received. Voices were clear and carried through the theatre, they commanded the room with their power but also their soulful emotion. Particular favourites included Marmee, played by Emma Koonce, whose solo regarding the hardships of solo motherhood made the hairs on the back of my neck stand and the harmonies from the March sisters, played by Jasmine Willans, Bella Yow, Hanna Ward, and Margo Anderson, who never missed a note. Alongside the excellent vocal abilities was the sustained energy and control exhibited throughout the show. I was tired just looking at Jasmine Willans, who played Jo March, but she seemed unphased by the effort of the role as she sang and danced her way across the stage without even seeming out of breath ( her sustained breathwork was a marvel in itself).
The high expectations regarding vocal performances that one enters a musical expecting were not only met but far exceeded. What surprised me even more than the talent I witnessed was the humour present in the musical. In the novel there are clearly some humorous moments such as Amy’s quips to Jo when she cut off her hair (“your one beauty”!) but Little Women is notoriously heartbreaking particularly in the detrimental health of Beth. Whilst it was tragic watching Beth say goodbye to her sisters the humourous moments lifted the piece in a somewhat unexpected way. Owen Leidich’s performance as Laurie was one such particular character who consistently lifted the tone of the show so I wasn’t stuck teary about Beth for very long. The imaginative display of metanarratives was also unexpected and I loved the creative use of a sheer screen at the back of the stage in which Jo’s stories were performed for the audience as she spoke them.
If you are reading this and still doubting whether you should have seen it (or if you did and you wanted to relive it) the presence of a live orchestra brought the professional enchantment of Broadway into the Byre. The magical strings combined with the realistic costumes and set truly brought the novel alive in a tangible way.
I truly did love this performance and believe it was a true credit to everyone involved and with a sold out show I am obviously not the only one who thought so. My only qualm lies not with this performance at all but in Louisa May Alcott who still decided to marry Jo off in the end *sigh* but as a product of her time I can totally appreciate that Jo marries in her own time and on her grounds as a free choice so I can overcome this qualm (albeit slowly and with gritted teeth). Despite knowing the book and watching film adaptations of Little Women the musical was surprising and entertaining, allowing me to appreciate a known novel in a different media.
This performance taught me to never underestimate a production that presents itself as amateur, and that the power of the novel is one of multi-medias. It also taught me that the academic weapons in your classes are also apparently seriously talented performers, and made me appreciate heavily that my parents did not accompany me to this performance for any waive of comparison. If you missed this performance do not fretI am sure Musical Theatre Society will be putting on another performance of a lifetime soon and when they do you best believe I will be grabbing a ticket and I think you should too.
With many thanks to the wonderful cast and crew listed below:
Lily Bates – Director
Jaden Jones – Producer
Elle Hale – Music Director
Bella Hirst – Co-Costumer
Gretchen Mills – Co-Costumer
Siobhan Williams – Set Designer
Tess McCartney – Props
Ian Cunningham – Sound Designer
Sebastian Rugina – General Tech
Max Fogelman – Stage Manager
Molly Aitchison – Assistant Stage Manager
Shona M’gadzah – Lighting Tech
Sacha Davies – Choreographer