SPRINGVILLE — When given the opportunity to review a production of Little Women, I jumped at the chance. I was lucky enough to see this show when it first opened on Broadway in 2005, and was thrilled by the story. I spent the hour and a half driving to Springville hoping that I would enjoy seeing Little Women in a community setting. I know that one cannot compare a production that has a large budget and professional actors to one that is done in a community setting. However, I do believe that community actors can use passion, creativity, and spirit in order to provide wonderful entertainment. The players at Springville Playhouse reaffirmed this belief, as their production certainly exceeded my expectations.
The story of Little Women is a classic that has been around for generations. The Louisa May Alcott tells the story of the March family, a family of young women coming of age during and just after the Civil War. The mother, Marmee, played in this production by Robinne Booth (who also directed the play), is left with the task of caring for her four daughters while her husband is away at war. The four daughters have their own personalities, and how each experienced growing up and what that meant for their lives.
Most of the story surrounds Jo, the second eldest daughter, who has a tomboy attitude and dreams far beyond their little town. The character requires an actress who is able to embody such a big spirit and portray it with ease. The difficulty of playing a character like Jo is very apparent, yet Anne Gordon did such a fantastic job of portraying Jo that from the very first scene I knew this was going to be an amazing production. As Gordon sang her first song, I could tell that she understood the struggles that Jo had because she was larger than the life the character had been given. Gordon has a lovely voice, and all of her songs were done well. However, I want to say that there is so much more than her singing voice that made the character so believable. I also felt that her mannerisms, facial expressions, and reactions to her fellow actors showed that Gordon had truly focused on becoming Jo. The second song that Jo sings, “Better,” is all about the confidence that Jo has to continue pursuing her dreams, but also her doubts and fears. This story is such an important one for young girls, and at the time this story was set, a women like Jo dreamed of things that were not possible for most girls. When Gordon sang “Better,” I truly felt that she was helping the audience understand just how important her dreams were to her. I felt that each of her songs were better than the previous one.
The set was a simple one, mainly in the one home of the March family. I was impressed with the details of the home, and felt that the set designer, Mark Taggart, had worked hard to recreate the home. It felt warm and real, like I was in the home, listening to Jo tell her stories.
All of the supporting characters deserve praise for their part in making this production a success. Meg, the eldest sister, was played by Christy Duffin, who portrayed her character with grace and quiet confidence. I enjoyed especially how Meg tried to help calm Jo and teach her quiet dignity. Amy, the youngest, was played by Leisl Cope. Amy is a bit spoiled, and desires the riches of society. One difficult aspect of the role of Amy occurs when the audience is shown how Amy has grown and become a woman rather than a child. Despite the difficulty, I feel that Cope succeeded in showing the adult Amy as a real human being. Laurie, the next door neighbor, best friend, and love interest to a few of the characters, was played very well by Gregory Duffin. One of my favorite songs in the show is when Laurie is able to talk to Jo about how he wants to be friends and experience what it must be like to have a family around. When Mr. Duffin sang “Take a Chance on Me,” I was impressed with his voice and the dynamic between him and Jo.
I was also impressed with Joni Newman’s performance as the delicate sister Beth. Beth is such a sweet character, and the anchor for the character of Jo. It is a difficult part to play, and I was so touched by Newman’s performance. One of the most beautiful moments in the show was when Newman and Gordon sang the song “Some things are meant to be.” In that moment, as the two of them sat on a blanket flying a kite, I felt that the two were truly sisters. In fact, I even checked the program just to see if they were related. Their voices blended perfectly, and I felt that it was a younger sister comforting her older sister, helping her understand the fate she has always known would be. I felt almost as if I had been invited into a private moment shared by these two, and it was hard to remember this was just a show. I could not help but weep during this number.
The very last thing that Jo sings is, “Sometimes when you dream, your dreams come true in extraordinary ways. Suddenly a day can seem so amazing!” As a child, I spent hours in my room, listening to music, and dreaming of the day when I could see shows on Broadway and experience the thrill of the stage. I was a lucky young girl who got to live my dream, and lived in New York City for many years, watching more musicals than I can count. Now that I am back in Utah, I confess that I miss the glittering lights of Broadway. However, when I spend an evening like this, watching a group of people who have worked hard to put together a production that elicits in me the same emotions that I experienced in the grand halls of Broadway, I am reminded that talent is universal, and that no amount of money or special effects compare to an individual who has taken the time to understand and become the character they are portraying. What a lovely production this was! I say that it was well worth the long drive, and encourage others to go out to Springville and support this show.