Photo credit: Little Women cast (Photo by Pamela Raith)

'Little Women' review — Park Theatre's rag-tag production captures the story’s joy

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

It's hard not to fall for Little Women, Louisa May Alcott's seminal novel about four sisters coming of age in New England in the 1800's. The story has everything you want from a nostalgic tale: sisterhood, adventure, romance, sorrow, and the right amount of whimsy. Which is why it's so disappointing that the musical adaptation, from composer Jason Howland, lyricist Mindi Dickstein, and book writer Allan Knee, falls so flat. What leaps off the pages in the book becomes didactic and bland in the musical, which saw a short Broadway run in 2005.
Some of the joy of the original story is recaptured here in Park Theatre's production of the show, directed by Bronagh Lagan, which leans into the show's storybook quality, accented by Nik Corral's literary-laden set and costumes that look like they were pulled from a dress-up box. The intimate space provides a fetching canvas on which the story can unfold, and the excitement and earnestness of the characters comes through. 

However, this rag-tag quality is both a positive and a negative. While the production feels very true to the book, there is a slight amateur quality, as performers struggle with accents and to hit notes at times. But that doesn't take away from the storytelling, perhaps it even adds to it, as Jo (a spirited Lydia White) puts on plays with her sisters in the living room. 

Given that the narrative framing device for the story is Jo attempting to get her stories published, only to find success when she writes about her own family, perhaps the unwritten subtext here is that this production is also meant to have sprung from Jo's imagination and living room experiences. 

The cast is of varying levels here, but the real standout is White, who obviously comes from the Winona Ryder school of Jo March, in look and in energy, and she darts about the stage in her bookish spirits exactly as you'd imagine. As Beth, Anastasia Martin possesses the ideal naïve and calming energy, and the duet between Jo and Beth in the second act, "Some Things Are Meant to Be," is the highlight of the production. Savannah Stevenson is a warming presence as Marmee, the glue that holds the family together. 

Little Women is the perfect tale for the Christmas season, as the story lifts up the importance of family and being together, and this production, even with its shortcomings, will make you want to grab a book or write a story of your own. 

Little Women is at the Park Theatre to 18 December. Book Little Women tickets on London Theatre.

Photo credit: Little Women cast (Photo by Pamela Raith)

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