Wednesday, November 17, 2021

"Little Women: The Broadway Musical" at Artistry

After cancelling their originally scheduled opening weekend due to a positive COVID test in the vaccinated cast (statistically speaking, this was bound to happen somewhere amongst the many shows in production right now, even with a low breakthrough rate), Artistry finally opened their production of Little Women: The Broadway Musical. Louisa May Alcott's classic story of four very different but loving sisters has stood the test of time and many adaptations. While this is not my favorite adaptation of the story, it's still a heart-warming tale, and the talented cast and creative team make the most of the material.

Despite a runtime of close to three hours (including intermission), the story feels rushed, with many things skipped over or condensed. Beth gets sick and dies in the space of ten minutes (150-year old spoiler alert), and we don't get to watch Laurie and Amy fall in love, we just hear about it one song. And did father ever come home from the war? He's never seen. I can't help but agree with the New York Times review of the Broadway production: "Watching this shorthand account of four sisters growing up poor but honest during the Civil War is like speed reading Alcott's evergreen novel of 1868. You glean the most salient traits of the principal characters, events and moral lessons, but without the shading and detail that made these elements feel true to life in the book." This makes the whole thing feel a little too light-hearted and insubstantial, without the gravity and poignancy of the original and some of its more successful adaptations.

Still, for those of us who love Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, it's fun to see them represented in a musical onstage, and the score has some really beautiful and interesting moments. This cast is perfection, starting with Madeline Trumble, making her #TCTheater debut (not counting her practically perfect performance as the title character in the 2013 tour of Mary Poppins), with a strong voice and stage presence, and an indefatigable spirit as the story's heroine Jo. Camryn Buelow is radiant as eldest sister Meg, Lauren Hugh embodies sweet Beth, and Shinah Hey is appropriately and adorably childish as young Amy. Kersten Rodau is a warm presence as the girls' mother, and veteran character actor Angela Timberman is as entertaining as always as Aunt March. Bradley Johnson is a charismatic Laurie, Matthew Hall is charming as Meg's suitor John, Dwight Xavier Leslie is lovely as Jo's eventual love interest Professor Bhaer (it's a sweet and quiet romance), and Brian Frutiger is a convincing grumpy old man with a heart of gold as Laurie's grandfather.

The score includes some beautiful duets and rousing solos, capturing the varied emotions of the story, and sounds great as played by the 12-piece pit orchestra led by Artistry's resident Music Director Anita Ruth. Tamara Kangas Erickson, who's choreography can often be seen at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (including currently in The Music Man), makes her Artistry debut here directing (and presumably choreographing). The cast are dressed in practical and pretty period costumes (designed by Rich Hamson), and the simple and efficient set sketches out the backdrop of the Marsh home and other locations (designed by Leazah Behrens).

Little Women: The Broadway Musical continues performances at Bloomington Center for the Arts through November 28. Click here for more info and to purchase tickets.