TOOELE — After seeing Tooele Valley Theatre’s previous production held in the local high school, I was a little concerned about the match between the large auditorium and the new theatre company that is still building its audience base. I was really happy with their decision to turn the large stage into a small black box theatre for their current production of Little Women. The setting felt much more intimate, which is ideal for this musical. There is a certain energy that is generated when the cast and audience can be closer together, and that was definitely felt with this production.
Little Woman The Musical, with a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, is based on the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel of the same title. Set in Concord, Massachusetts, during the Civil War, Little Women follows the lives of the four March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. It is a story mixed with humor and sorrow. The Tooele Valley Theatre production was directed by Ada Lauren Taylor.
The set (designed by Collin Ray) for this production was simple yet functional, with multiple locations being able to be created on the same unit set. The raised attic platform gave a nice variety to the levels of the scenes. Although the set was bare, there is wisdom in the decision to keep things simple for quick set changes, which in this show all ran smoothly and didn’t slow the pace. Still, a few more decorations could have been used to create a cozier environment for the March family. A simple switch up, such as changing the quilt laying across the back of the sofa, could have helped create different locations and given the rooms a different feel for each owner.
Although the black box setting on the auditorium stage was quaint, it presented some sound challenges. The performers’ microphones were not always functioning well enough to amplify the actors’ voices. I was sad that it was hard to hear Marmee (played by Cassidy Ellenberger) during her performance of “Here Alone” because Ellenberger had a beautiful singing voice that was being overpowered by the music.
The sound problems also affected the cast’s ability to stay on pitch during group numbers. I heard some beautiful moments from all of the singers, but I also heard a lot of sour notes during group numbers. During solos and songs where cast members stood close together, they were able to hear each other and blend and support each other much better than when they were spread out on stage. Still, the performers deserve a lot of credit for being able to push past the sour notes and not let it bring down their confidence or energy.
Jo March was well cast with Sofia Kenrick in the part. Kenrick captured the energy and spirit of Jo, and avoided imitating other versions of Jo from films. I loved the way Jo seemed to relish the descriptions of her stories as “blood and guts” tales. I also enjoyed the growth I saw in Jo’s relationship with Amy (played by Boston Bean). The moments of mourning for the loss of Beth were moving without being overly sad.
The stand out performer for me was definitely Julianne Ferguson as Beth March. After seeing Ferguson as Puck last summer, I was interested to see her performance in Little Women. It was fun to see Ferguson in a more contrasted role and to watch her rise to the challenge. She brought a rare level of energy to Beth. This energy worked well for Jo’s descriptions of Beth as being able to “chase the clouds away.” Although I feel that Beth is a more timid role, I enjoyed seeing Ferguson’s cheery nature shining through and making it easier to see why Beth’s friends and family love her so dearly.
Ferguson’s singing voice was the best of the night. Her quaint little duet “Off to Massachusetts” with Mr. Laurence (played by Glen Carpenter) was one of my favorite numbers of the night. But the strongest song of the production was “Somethings Are Meant to Be” with Beth and Jo. It was tender scene and it really solidified Beth’s influence and effect on her family.
I loved Chelsea Lynn Tramell as Aunt March. She was snobbish and rude, but there was an underlying layer of fun to her as well. Tramell had so many little moments in the way she delivered her lines that just really made the character pop. I could tell that she was enjoying playing Aunt Marc,h and she surprised many chuckles out of me during the night.
Overall, there were many things to be enjoyed in this production of Little Women. Tooele Valley Theatre has a solid group of actors, and I hope that the singing portions of their productions can continue to grow and reach the same level as their acting. This company is not afraid to challenge itself, and I think that is what I like most about them. I look forward to continuing watching them grow up.