ST. GEORGE — From the moment the lights came up on the stage at St. George Musical Theater’s Little Women, the story felt so genuine, so real, whisking viewers along, as if part of the March family themselves, at a pace that was both natural and breathtaking.
Based on the American classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, this masterful musical re-creation with a script by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, came to life on the local level at the hands of director Doug Bishop, music director Norm Lister, and a cast that far exceeded the expectations many have of community theater — a level of excellence that is quickly becoming the norm for St. George Musical Theater.
Set in a quiet Massachusetts town during the American Civil War, Little Women is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story, with each of the four March sisters moving toward adulthood in a way that is uniquely her own. Although a period piece to be sure, the relatability and charm of Alcott’s writing makes it easy to see why this story has a timeless quality, one that has been adapted to stage and screen numerous times, each with its own unique take. And the St. George Musical Theater iteration definitely makes a mark of its own.
Striding out in front of her sisters as a woman born ahead of her time, Jo March (played by Gabriel Brown) set the tone for a high-quality production from her first moments on stage. Her command of the room and her chemistry with Professor Bhaer (played by Trent Cox) was immediately endearing, and that chemistry made later encounters between them even more rewarding. Throughout the production, Brown’s portrayal of Jo’s passion was almost palpable, even painful at times, and left no question that she was, in her own words at the end of Act One, “Astonishing.”
As the eldest daughter of the March family, Meg (played by Cara Nickels) was strong and mature, but sweet and playful when the moments allowed. Her vocal skills were matched only by those of her sisters, while her own enchanting personality shined through in many numbers, including “Delighted.” Kind and perfectly content, Beth (played by Bethany Ure) was the epitome of sweetness in her voice, demeanor and appearance. Her lilting vocals brought out the best in the March family’s grumpy neighbor, Mr. Lawrence (played by the engaging Paul Nickels), during their loving duet; and brought out tears for many in the moving “Some Things Are Meant To Be” with her sister Jo.
Meanwhile Amy, the youngest sister (played by Emma Leonard), showcased her strength as an actress thanks to the contrast between the musical’s two acts. Hot-headed and somewhat selfish in act one, Amy emerged as a more mature, graceful version of herself in act two, something for which her haughty Aunt March (played by Elizabeth Stewart Dunford) could be proud. As the mother to the four March girls, Marmee (played by Shannon Klomp) is often seen as strong, selfless, and even stoic — traits undoubtedly required of a woman left to raise her family while her husband fights in the Civil War. But Klomp’s beautiful rendition of the tragic “Here Alone” gives a wonderful glimpse into the difficult emotions Marmee was experiencing.
The men in the March girls’ lives earned their places with talent to spare from Laurie (played by Zane Kroff), Mr. Brooke (played by Noah Gallagher) and Professor Bhaer (played by Trent Cox). Kroff certainly had the youthful, almost impish charm one would expect of the character of Laurie and warmed to his role as the night went on. Vocally, he held his own on the middle range, but seemed to be stretching a bit on the upper register. Still, his chemistry with the March girls made him well-suited for the part.
Overall, this production of Little Women gained even greater strength thanks to St. George Musical Theater’s signature in-the-round style. Being so close to the action, as well as the great use of the space, gave this version an even more intimate feel. The majority of the roles in Little Women are double cast and, as Norm Lister was eager to point out prior to the show, “you really need to see both casts to get the full experience.” Well, if the other cast is anything like this one, a second viewing of Little Women is bound to be worthwhile.