Dare to Defy Productions’ heartwarming production of Little Women: The Musical engagingly resonates in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center.
At its core, composer Jason Howland, lyricist Mindi Dickstein and librettist Alan Knee’s 2005 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 1868 novel is an unabashedly hurried affair. This coming-of-age Civil War-era tale of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth – and their devoted Marmee coping with life on the homefront never really settles down enough to fully grasp the depth of the relationships and situations. In an attempt to cover as much of the book as possible, the passage of time is accelerated and sufficient character development is sacrificed. In fact, Amy’s transformation from childish brat to sophisticated world traveler is a huge stretch. Even so, the colorful and inspiring March women remain a relatable quintet bolstered and bonded by a compelling journey of love, loss, identity, and sisterhood.
Deftly directed by Kristofer Green (making fine use of Zach King’s efficient unit set), this vocally strong showcase contains a terrific cast. Melissa Hall (a complex knockout last summer as unstable Harper Pitt in Columbus’ Short North Stage’s Angels in America) is dynamic as the determined, feisty Jo who dreams of literary greatness. With captivating expressions and spitfire fortitude, the ever-present Hall completely embodies Jo’s willingness to overcome adversity and take the world by storm. She also supplies wonderfully introspective renditions of “Astonishing” and “The Fire Within Me,” the show’s dual centerpiece anthems. Lindsay Sherman, known mostly for comedic roles, is effectively grounded as the mature, romantic Meg who ultimately falls for the friendly John Brooke (amiable Jonathan Collura). Samantha Creech, who recently delivered a breakthrough performance as Shelley Parker in Dare to Defy’s Bat Boy, delightfully portrays Amy with a nod to Lily Tomlin’s iconic Edith Ann. Jessi Stark, appealingly understated as soft-spoken, ill-fated Beth, joins Hall for the truly touching duet “Some Things Are Meant To Be,” a vividly acted moment acknowledging death while treasuring every bit of time left. Lorri Topping, in a welcomed return to the stage, affectionately portrays the resilient Marmee, specifically delivering an emotional “Days of Plenty” which finds Marmee trying to make peace with grief. A.J. Breslin as charmingly smitten Laurie Laurence, Ted Elzroth as persnickety Mr. Laurence, Becky Howard as fussy Aunt March, and Justin King as introverted Professor Bhaer are equally first-rate. The production also contains lively yet fittingly minimal choreography by Tracie Books, attractive period costumes by Jordan Norgaard, lighting design by Derryck Menard, music direction by David McKibbben, and a steady if occasionally overpowering orchestra under the leadership of Judy Mansky.
With potent reminders fueling the importance of family, forgiveness, benevolence, and kindness, Little Women is the perfect vehicle to usher in the holiday season.
Little Women: The Musical continues Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $16.50-$25. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or ticketcenterstage.com.