Reviewed by Judy Richter
Set mostly in Concord, Mass., during the mid-1860s, "Little Women" follows the four March sisters and their mother at home while Mr. March is serving as a Union chaplain during the Civil War.
The primary focus is on the second-oldest daughter, Jo (Emily Koch). The free-spirited, tomboyish Jo longs to become a self-supporting writer and see the world, but she's had no success in getting her blood-and-guts stories published.
The oldest daughter, the kindly Meg (Sharon Rietkerk), works as a governess. After Jo there's gentle Beth (Julia Belanoff). The youngest is the artistic Amy (Arielle Fishman), who's something of a social climber and who can become jealous of her older sisters' privileges.
The family's rock is the mother, Marmee (Elizabeth Ward Land), who dearly misses her husband but who guides her daughters as lovingly and wisely as she can. As a result, the girls and she are all quite close.
Completing the family is the stern Aunt March (Elizabeth Palmer), who lives nearby and who, unlike the others, is financially well off.
As time goes on, other people enter the family orbit. The first is the energetic Laurie (Matt Dengler). He has come to live with his grandfather, the grouchy Mr. Laurence (Richard Farrell), who lives across the street. Laurie and Jo become best buddies, but to his great disappointment, Jo has no romantic interest in him.
Laurie's tutor, John Brooke (Justin Buchs), visits the March home, too, and begins to woo Meg after meeting her at a dance.
Finally, there's Professor Bhaer (Christopher Vettel), who's from Germany. He lives in the same New York City boardinghouse as Jo, who has temporarily gone there to seek her fortune as a writer. He finds that he misses her when she goes home because Beth is ill.
The show is filled with lovely songs composed by Jason Howland with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. One of them, the bouncy "Off to Massachusetts," is part of one of the show's sweetest scenes. As Beth plays it on the family harmonium, the visiting Mr. Laurence unexpectedly joins her at the keyboard and begins to show his softer, more generous side.
As directed by artistic director-founder Robert Kelley, the show works well in the intimate Lucie Stern Theatre, especially when the action involves the family and their friends. The fantasy scenes, which enact Jo's potboiler stories, interrupt the dramatic flow of the show's book by Allan Knee.
Joe Ragey's simple set evokes the era with gas lamps and Currier & Ives-like prints, complemented by Steven B. Mannshardt's lighting and Jeff Mockus's sound. The handsome period costumes are by Fumiko Bielefeldt.
Musical director William Liberatore conducts four other musicians from the keyboard in the orchestra pit.
Overall, the show is well done and well cast with each actor creating memorable characters who also sing well. Although it's not a holiday show per se, "Little Women" is nevertheless a heartwarming musical imbued with life and love befitting the season.
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