WEST VALLEY CITY — There are certain stories that have stood the test of time. Despite having been written decades ago they still ring true to for modern audiences and readers. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is one of those stories. Since it was first published in 1868, the book has never been out of print and remains beloved to especially girls of all ages. Given its popularity, it is no surprise Little Women would get the Hollywood treatment, which has been adapted to the screen many times including most recently in 2019. There have also been multiple television series, an opera and in 2005 a Broadway musical. The West Valley Performing Arts Center has mounted this musical with Jim Christian as director, and it should please the die-hard Little Women fans and newbies to the material as well. West Valley’s Little Women is a fantastic night of theater.
The musical features a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The original Broadway production featured Sutton Foster as Jo, which she was Tony Award nominated for the role. In this production, Lindsea Garside stars as Jo, and she brings a slightly more gentle spirit to the part. Garside’s alto singing has a lovely timbre for songs like “Astonishing” (the big bravado moment for Jo in the show that closes out the first act). However, she is also great in softer songs, like “Some Things Are Meant To Be” (my favorite number in the score), a duet sung with Ellie Hughes playing Beth.
The rest of the cast is great, including Mia Hansen as Amy, who is wonderful at converting from child Amy to adult Amy and being believable in both (a feat the films have often struggled with). Ricky Dowse is a charming Laurie and he has believable chemistry with Amy and Jo, which — again — is difficult to achieve. Both actors have a lot of fun describing their romance to Jo in “The Most Amazing Thing.”
The role of Marmee is one of the key parts of Little Women’s success, and she is played in West Valley by Melinda Welch. In many ways, Marmee is the perfect mother. She always knows the right thing to say and the perfect advice for her “little women.” This is evident when Amy burns Jo’s book in an early segment and when Jo comes to her having sold her hair so that she can go help her ailing husband. All of this is excellent in the musical, but my favorite part for the character is a song called “Days of Plenty,” where she admits to being vulnerable and weak especially with the passing of poor Beth. Welch does an excellent job with this song, and both my friend and I had tears in our eyes as she sang the stirring words.
The production design at West Valley is simple yet sufficient for the needs of the story. Scenic designer Brad Shelton used two different pianos to convincingly create the feel of a kite flying in Cape Cod in different sequences. There was also a fun a rain effect for “Small Umbrella in the Rain.”
My major critique of the show is that the costumes (designed by Kelsey Nichols) and makeup were sloppy and out of character. There were times when I wanted to pull dresses down, as they puckered in strange places, or looked wrinkled and ill-fitting. Nichols also chose some strange patterns for dresses, particularly for Madison McGuire in the role of Meg; often the dresses that that did not look very pretty on the beautiful actress.
In addition, the wigs (from hair and makeup designer Savanna Finley) looked cheap and in some cases strange. For example, at Sally Moffat’s party, Jo has long hair (which probably would have been out of style in that era), and Meg has her hair up but it was in a strange gathering of ringlets that I have never seen in a period piece before. Also, when Amy comes back from Europe she was wearing so much makeup that it was distracting. A woman from that era would never wear that much rouge, even if she had just been in Europe.
All that said, the production of Little Women at the West Valley Performing Arts Center gets the important parts of the show right. The singing is wonderful, the chemistry amongst the cast is great, and the story that has delighted audiences for ages is well-told. Indeed, West Valley Arts’s Little Women is “astonishing.”