Born in 1832 and living through five and a half decades of the nineteenth century, Louisa May Alcott marched to her own drummer through much of her life – so it is perhaps not surprising that she named the family in her most famous novel, “Little Women,” the Marches. Originally published as two separate tales in 1868 and 1869 (but later joined as “Little Women), Alcott’s semi-autobiographical account of the March family became an immediate success and eventually blossomed into two sequels, five films (including one silent movie), six television series, and a musical.
First produced on Broadway in 2005, LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL, ran for 137 performances and earned Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle award nominations for lead actress Sulton Foster. The latest revival takes place at Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre, the oldest theatrical organization in the city founded in 1946. And a fine revival it is.
The March family lives in Concord, Massachusetts. Theirs is a life of genteel poverty occasioned by their generous father’s loans to cash-strapped friends. This is the time of the American Civil War, and their preacher father is serving in the Union Army as a chaplain – far from his wife and children. Meanwhile, his wife has been left in charge of their four daughters, a crew of lively young ladies ranging in age from 12 to 16. Meg (Amanda Greig) is the oldest, a practical and compliant beauty who has her goals plainly drawn. Her one-year younger sister Jo (Alicia Reynolds-Luoma) is the tomboy of the family, a dreamer who wants to share her thoughts through the written word. Below Jo is Beth (Zoe D’Andrea), a quiet, shy child who has become the peacemaker in the brood. Finally, the youngest, Amy (Amy Coles), is the proud, materialistic and talented artist who longs for a life of wealth and position.
Despite multiple rejections as she tries to get her writings published, Jo continues to yearn for the fulfillment of her dreams. For LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL, is a tale of hope, aspiration, and yearning. Each March sister has her very own longings – and each craves something just a little different from her siblings. The play is also a poignant peek at a family blessed by a strong mother they call Marmee (Janet Krajeski) and an aloof but caring aunt (Raymond Zachary) – and you’re not seeing things. The part is played by a very talented and courageous guy. LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL is also about love, as males buzz around the March flowers (Laurie/Christopher P. Tiernan II; John Brooke/Daniel Koh, and Professor Bhaer/Aric Martin).
Director Anna Gesling has done an excellent job of helming this production with just the right amount of seriousness and fun. Besides, she doubled as wardrobe costumier, creating at least half of the beautiful costumes in the play. Daniel Koh also did double duty as one of the male love interests in the drama and the music director. And let’s not forget John Sparks’ wigs, Tristan Griffin’s set, William Wilday’s lighting, and Krystal Combs’ choreography. Finally, last but definitely not least, the skilled ensemble cast made Alcott’s ladies and gentlemen come alive. Clearly, this is a very talented team effort.
On the night the play was reviewed, the audience also deserved kudos as one of the most involved and delighted groups of people around. As the cast later noted, perhaps this was because at least 50 of the audience members were high school students who clearly were enchanted by the piece and let everyone know it in no uncertain terms. Let’s keep the kids coming to live theater! And how about the adults – especially those who would like to see a stunning revival of a 2005 Broadway hit. This production was made for you.
LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL runs through April 14, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Morgan-Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $28 (seniors and students $23). For information and reservations, call 310-828-5419 or go online.