Monday, October 10, 2011

Full of Heart and Love : The Wellesley Players Present "Little Women"

Little Women

Marmee:  Suzanne Spezzano
Aunt March: Margaret McCarty
Jo March:  Angela Richardson
Meg March:  Olivia Rizzo
Amy March:  Alissa Palange
Beth March:  Gillian Gordon
Mr Laurence:  Dan Moore
Professor Bhaer:  David Wood
Mr. Brooke:  Matthew Brendan Ford
Laurie:  Todd Sandstrom

Artistic Team:
Producer:  Diane Rothauser
Stage Manager:  Emily Hart
Director:  Celia Couture
Music Director:  Shawn Gelzleichter
Choreographer:  Kelly Murphy
Set Design:  Douglas Cooper
Lighting Design:  Doug Gordon

I recently checked out a performance of "Little Women, The Musical" presented by The Wellesley Players at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.  I was somewhat familiar with the original book and had seen the movie and wanted to see how it translated to the stage. The performance was presented in a black box theatre, which can easily present a challenge with many productions. However, it was a show I wanted to see.

The story focuses on the adventures of the four March sisters:  firey Jo, beautiful Meg, young Amy and tender Beth living in Concord, MA during the Civil War with their mother, Marmee. Mr. Marsh is absent, as he is off in the war, leaving all five at home.  Jo is the main focus as she constantly struggles with her place as a sister and daughter as well as her desire to become a writer.  Each of her sisters do the same, as they start to find their own place.  Along the way, Jo and her sisters meet Laurie, a young man staying in the area, and bring him into the fold, specifically becoming Jo's best friend, creating their little group, continuing their adventures.  But as it is with life, things unexpectedly occur and they all must adjust accordingly. Adapted from Louisa May Alcott's novel, the musical is written by Allan Knee, Jason Holand and Mindi Dickstein. Everything is written well enough, but with only a few moments here and there, nothing is too memorable. It is a good score, but it is nothing too groundbreaking.

The cast manages to come together well, and they each give strong performances.  Angela Richardson plays the outspoken and tempestuous Jo incredibly well. She is strong as well as caring, whose desires in this world are evident. Richardson has the pipes to carry the role and we see her develop a solid arc from girl to woman, while still managing to stay true to herself. Gillian Gordon plays the sweet and soft-spoken Beth, who in many ways, represents the heart of the family, as she is incredibly supportive and loving. Gordon carries herself well, especially with her interaction with her family.  In "Some Things Are Meant To Be" she and Jo have a particular sweet moment on the beach, as you see their bond and love as sisters created effortlessly. Olivia Rizzo plays Meg as a full-hearted romantic, while remaining consistent in her desires.  Her chemistry with John Brooke, played by Matthew Ford, is sweet and adorable to watch. They both fall so hard for each other initially that it overwhelms them to the core.  Ford bumbles yet remains a gentleman throughout. They both share a wonderful duet "More Than I Am" and we see how much they truly care for one another and it is played wonderfully. Alissa Palange plays a wonderfully catty and spoiled Amy initially, especially as a young girl.  Though she is comfortable in the role, there are a few moments where there is conflict between her and Jo that falls short, as the writing lends to a more intense moment.  Also, her transition into a young woman at times felt forced, and her as a young frustrated individual seemed to be her only side. Todd Sandstrom plays the jovial and sweet Laurie, who is full of life and love. He manages to fit well with the March sisters, as it is clear in "Five Forever". Sandstrom shines with optimism and a care-free attitude that is constant throughout.  Margaret McCarthy plays the cold and stern Aunt March, but with such subtle humor. Her deadpan is uncanny and she shows us there might be bit more to this character, hinting at some kindness here and there. She remains vigilant in her character and is indeed fun to watch. Dan Moore, who clearly belongs in every period show, plays the stern Mr. Laurence who might have more to him as well. Though Moore attempts to be commanding and intimidating, it doesn't play as well as it could, as we see more transition to a sweeter version, something we desire to see more of. He seems uncomfortable at times, but his arc is fairly interesting to watch.  Suzanne Spezzano's performance as Marmee is solid as well, as she struggles to keep her daughters strong and we feel that she truly misses her husband. Her motherhood though, seems more like an acting governess at times, sometimes never truly connecting with her children. Her connection as a mother does however come in strong during "Delighted", a sweet dance number, where we see her beautiful support to make her children truly feel special.  David Wood plays a bumbling and proper Professor Bhaer who clearly harbors feelings that even he can't understand sometimes.  His interaction with Jo has something more going on, and their awkward yet strong friendship longs for more.  Wood could have easily given more to the role sometimes in his moments alone, perhaps enhancing his desire to accept his emotions, but he brings it home nicely in the end.  The entire cast all comes together in one particular wonderous moment during Jo's second retelling of her story in "The Weekly Volcano Press". Each actor plays a vital part in the story and bring it home in the climax of the song, with all their voices coming in strong.  Again, the cast each brings their own flavor to the production, creating wonderful moments.  It is a joy to see how much chemistry is evident amongst this particular cast as they all work to bring Louisa May Alcott's characters to life.

Ceclia Couture's direction works well for this space.  She does manage to do her best to not create too much congestion when characters were on stage.  At times, a use of levels might have worked in some moments, but there was only so much that could be done. All in all, it is clear that Couture is no stranger working in black boxes as she utilizes each area very well. Shawn Gelzleichter's music direction is strong, as he as well must do what he can in the space.  The show is clearly called for a much larger orchestra, but Gelzleichter pulls together his wonderous skeleton crew of musicians to create a solid sound, having all his string players working in tandem.  He clearly works hard to have the space work for him, rather than against him. Kelly Murphy's choreography is very well executed as well for this production. With minimal and simple movement, she doesn't create too much congestion either.  It is light and adorable, continuing to contribute to the heart of this production.

Douglas Cooper and Libby Ostrowski create a very functional set within the space itself, but it is not as nearly belieavable as it could be. Black boxes present so many different challenges when it comes to staging, but the use of multiple white walls really took away focus from the world. Granted the perfromances became the focus of attention, but the world must be present as well. However, with some minor set pieces, some scenes played well, as it was established where one thing began and one thing ended. The lighting design, created by Doug Gordon,  had some good use of colors in some scenes, especially in Jo's storytelling moments and a usage of gobos were present throughout that gave some good texture. There was a particularly nice look to create the light coming through in attic scenes.  However,  more colors could have been used and there was no clear establishment and sometimes the lights felt flat. For the most part, the effort for the costumes were strong, as it seemed like multiple people were involved.  The pieces were very much period, which really helped with the production.  Many dresses were beautifully constructed and really helped in character development.  However, some of the costumes were not particular appropriate for some moments, as a vision was not in place. The hair and make-up was very well done, though many of the wigs did not seem natural.  They were used well to establish each character, but they became distracting throughout the production. There was strong balance for all aspects but there could have been more in each design. 

Again, as mentioned before, black box spaces are small and come in all shapes and sizes.  However, with each, they all present challenges. Wellesley Players had their work cut out for this show, but manage to bring together a solid production.  With some incredibly shining moments and features, well-honed performances and strong direction, this production of "Little Women" is a joy to watch.  The Wellesley Players will only continue to put on future productions full of heart for all audiences to enjoy.

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