Pack Your Kleenex For Little Women

the little women with marmee

Something special is happening at the Neptune Studio Theatre this weekend, the Metro Non Profit Housing Association, in conjunction with C100FM, is producing the musical version of Little Women to help provide housing and support services to homeless and at-risk single adults in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Sometimes theatre companies donate the proceeds of specific productions or performances to charity, but it is far rarer to see a Non Profit actually using the theatre as a means to bring about social change and community building of their own volition. This production is an ardently touching telling of this Louisa May Alcott classic and it runs through June 24

The musical has a book by Allan Knee with music and lyrics by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein and it is not a particularly good adaptation. The lyrics are quite unimaginative and have some clunky rhymes. Only one song, “Off to Massachusetts,” sounds like it could plausibly be sung by these characters during the Civil War and only a handful of songs ever find enough wind, lyrically and musically, to soar as great Broadway ballads the way the composers need them to. Much of the depth and complexity of character in both Meg and Amy has been lost, which makes it difficult for the actors to find ways for them to become three-dimensional and to grow as they do throughout the novel. Yet, that being said, this is the second time that I have seen this production done in the Neptune Studio Theatre with a vibrant young cast, and their hearts and their ability to capture the innate goodness and winsome charm and sweetness of Alcott’s original keeps reducing me to tears. This is a perfect example of a mediocre musical being done very well.

 Most of the poignancy in Little Women surrounds the relationship between the four sisters and Marmee and especially centers on the relationship between Jo, the vibrant, confident, budding young feminist writer and her younger sister, the sweet, kind and gentle piano playing Beth. Paige Smith plays Beth beautifully. She gives such a simple and spare performance with a lovely sweet singing voice and a demure spirit that makes you instantly fall in love with her goodness. She has a lovely rapport with Tia Andriani’s Jo and they sing the show’s most beautiful song “Some Things Are Meant To Be” together, which still seems to be a bit of a challenge for them, harmony wise, but when it gels it is quite magical.

Vikki Humphrey plays Marmee with soft wisdom, unwavering love and a quiet strength. She encompasses all that is so beloved in motherhood while still seeming more like a marvel than a cliché. She has a gorgeous singing voice as well, as do Tamara Fifield (Amy) and Becca Guilderson (Meg) and it is lovely when they all sing together. Taylor Long gives great humanity to Professor Baher, Jo’s eventual love interest, a repressed German teacher who is 34 going on 50 and I loved how he and Andriani slowly discovered their own fondness for one another. I also really enjoyed Sarah Slemko as Clarissa, the ingénue from Jo’s novel, she has incredible stage presence and is so endearing, I found myself completely captivated by her whenever she was onstage.

Tia Andriani gives a wonderful performance as Jo, filled with genuine passion and exuberance, dramatic in a playful way that never seems forced, and grounded in a sort of effortless realism that makes the character spring to life as though she were written yesterday. Andriani has a beautiful voice, with a sort of Disney Princess quality to it, although I wish that she’d had a microphone because her voice is soft and there were definitely moments where she and the piano were fighting for dominance. Yet, even that could not detract from how loveable she was. I would love to see her play Anne in Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival, I think she would be incredible.

There is some fantastic choreography by Lauren Amyotte that roots the musical in the time it was set and director Laura Thornton has done a good job of not letting her actors get bogged down with the epic proportions of the story or the clunky nature of the adaptation. She makes sure that the essence is always the heart and it is a testament to her success that I was crying on more than one occasion and I know I was not the only one.

I love going to the theatre and being inspired by young artists, especially musical theatre artists, and that was certainly my experience tonight. I am so excited to know that these talented young people live here and are working here and I hope that they will continue to create their own opportunities and seek out opportunities in the theatre community here and that they will be given opportunities by the powers that be, because their potential is extraordinary.

I would also like to say, since I have seen two productions of this flawed adaptation of Little Women in Halifax in a short period of time, that there is a Canadian musical version written by Jim Betts and Nancy Early that is much better and is definitely worth scouting out.

Little Women plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street, Halifax) until June 24, 2012. The proceeds go to the Support Centre on Gottingen Street. Metro Non-Profit Housing Association provides housing support and outreach services to single adults who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness in the HRM. Tickets are $15.00 (Children/Students, Seniors, Underwaged) $20.00 for General Admission. There are performances Saturday June 23rd and Sunday June 24th at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. You can book your tickets online here! 

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