OREM — Allie Fields and Co, a brand new theater company, presented a production of Little Women at Lakeridge Junior High School. Mid-rehearsal process, the studio space they were using closed down. The team was forced to make other arrangements. Making the best of it, they decided to use a middle school venue for their performances, donating all of the ticket sale proceeds to the middle school’s theater department. The director, Allie Fields, attended the school as a youth, discovering her love of theater within its walls.

Fields’s love for the space is exemplified in the set design. I’ll admit, after pulling into the middle school parking lot, blinking marquee and all, I was pleasantly surprised by the lovely set. Building coordinator Alberto Oquendo takes advantage of the small space by creating an intimate living room/attic combo, graced by two flickering fireplaces that set a homey tone. The set design was one of the best parts of the production.

Oquendo’s set and Fields’s vision welcome the audience into the warm, restless home of the March family. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s timeless book, Little Women, this coming of age musical by the same name stars the aspiring writer Jo March and her three sisters, all navigating their youth during the onset of the Civil War. With music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and the adapted book by Allan Knee, Little Women is nostalgic for those who have sisters and bearable, at minimum, for those who enjoy a timeless story.

In this production, however, the performance of these storytellers seemed subpar—I felt little emotional connection between anyone until the second act. A breath of fresh air was Jacob Nilson as Laurie, coming onto the stage with genuine charisma and energy. The best performances in this production were brought by the actors who did not seem to be trying too hard. Such is true from an immediate standout Peyton Lozano in her delightful portrayal as the hilariously pouty Amy. Lozano wasn’t trying to be funny—the humor simply rolled off her as she spoke with brilliantly sincere orneriness, as any teenager would.

The teenager that appeared too modern for the 1860’s plot was Lauren Zufelt as Jo March. Her performance lacked believability, her angsty body language and too frequent eye rolling proved inauthentic. Yet, she stepped into realism more as she sang, clearly a comfortable, talented musical theater actress, receiving a fully merited applause at the end of the song, “Astonishing.” Zufelt’s spunk was well placed in her duet with her Aunt March (Emily Simmons,) flashing comically cheesy smiles as her character attempted elegance. Finally, Zufelt’s acting abilities were more notable as her character calmed down in the second act. Zufelt looked calmly at the audience in the middle of a painful duet, “The Most Amazing Thing,” the actress’ sincerity made me erupt with laughter. Zufelt provided a moving moment with fellow actress, Jade Gottfredson, as she pressed herself into Gottfredson’s chest as they (spoiler) mourned their loss.

The best part of the production was Alexis Kattleman as Beth. Even doubling as the fictitious lover and hero, Rodrigo, Kattleman provided a steady, believable performance with unbroken focus, committing completely to her character’s imaginary circumstances. I felt unexpected tears stream down my cheeks in her performance of, “Some Things Are Meant to Be,” and not just because I love the 2019 Little Women film. In fact, I didn’t even cry in that film. Kattleman’s locked focus on her character’s sister and her soft, unforced voice gently showed us the real, profound depth of the characters’ relationship. Her connected stare was filled with years of memories. I saw countless moments with inexplicable amounts of meaning shared between these sisters. As I said, I cried. This moment was the most beautiful moment of the production.

Then, as she released the kite, the handle hit two audience members near their faces as it was reeled clumsily toward the tech box. The moment was shattered.

Other technical elements of the production were also disappointing. Director Fields explained to the audience beforehand that they were hoping to use the incoming ticket sale funds to buy a new lighting system for the theater. This, perhaps, justifies some of the missed light cues and mics turning on late. Given that this production was a production with an interrupted rehearsal time and that was solely performed for charitable purposes, it could have been a lot worse. But, it also could have been better.

I would like to give credit to the actors for being visibly passionate about their craft. Children and young girls especially would enjoy this production seeing that the actors make big, dramatic choices and were indeed having fun. Adults may struggle through some painful technical hiccups (literally) and rough acting to find something meaningful in this production, such as Kattleman’s or Lozano’s performances, the authentic vocal talent, and a charming set.

When all is said and done, I have spoken my thoughts about the piece just as Professor Bhaer does about Jo’s book in the first scene of the production. I believe there is potential in this passionate team, and I am excited to see what Allie Fields and Co develop in the future.

Allie Fields and Co’s production of Little Women played at Lakeridge Middle School (951 S 400 W, Orem). The show has since closed.

This review was supported by a generous grant from the Orem CARE program.