KAYSVILLE — Little Women, the musical based on the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott, with music by Jason Howland, Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and a book by Allan Knee, opened on Broadway in 2005. It follows the story of the March sisters in the 1860s in Concord Massachusetts, as they are affected by the Civil War and all the changes within the world at that time.
Directed by Brighton Sloan, the Hopebox production brought all the charm that this story requires. The first thing that caught my eye was the elegant set design by Tanaya Ropp and Lauri Baird. The intricate details of the beloved attic, where the main character, Jo, played by Savannah Ruiz, spent her days using her imagination and writing her stories. From the books and the dolls and the other items placed across the set of the March home, to the intimate setting of the Hopebox, I felt as though I was transformed into 1860s New England and had been accepted into the March family.
The next thing I noticed is that Ruiz as Jo was an absolute star. From the first song “Better” to the last note of the show, she was mesmerizing. Besides her impeccable vocals, I was also quite taken with her ability to completely become the character of Jo. The energy that Ruiz embodies is unparalleled. One of my favorite parts was watching Jo tell the stories she has written, because she becomes so animated and engaged in the process. The opening of act two comprises the whole cast working together to tell one of Jo’s stories, and the entire scene was pure magic amplified by the prowess of Ruiz.
Another standout performer was Andy Conlin, whose portrayal of Laurie, neighbor to the Marches and best friend of Jo, was charming in an innocent and unpretentious way that I had never seen before in past productions. His quaint charm played so well against Ruiz’s energy that it was a delight to see them together on stage. In his song “Take A Chance on Me” they seemed like they were having such fun that the storyline of their friendship felt as natural as could be.
Additionally, Beth, played by Maggie Scott, added the heart to the show. I have seen a myriad of productions of Little Women, and am quite partial to the song “Some Things Are Meant To Be,” even though it does make me cry. Scott and Ruiz had such a connection that it was not a stretch to believe their characters were sisters. That particular number is at a very touching and difficult part of the show, and the two had such picturesque movements that I almost wanted to capture their poses as a postcard.
There was an actual family connection in the show. Father of Andy Conlin, Scott Conlin played Mr. Lawrence, grandfather to Laurie. Conlin Sr. did a good job of playing the gentleman who comes across first as miserly and unwelcoming, but throughout the show he becomes more kind and lighthearted, especially when paired with Scott’s portrayal of Beth. When the two sang “Off To Massachusetts” at the piano, it was light and fun, and seemed a believable moment of connection.
The other characters in the show, Kathi Luke as Aunt March, Dugan Brunker as Professor Baehr, Craig Hovorka as John Brooke, Jennifer Ostermiller as Marmee, Karllen McDonald as Meg, and Evelyn Powers as Amy certainly added to the overall quality to the performance. I will say that this production seemed to shine mostly on the sisters and Laurie. In the number “Five For All,” the harmonies of music with the sisters and the choreography by Music Director Katie Frandsen and Choreographers Brighton Sloan and Jillian Joy were in fine form. It was simple to see why Jo would want to keep her sisters just as they were when
such happiness could exude from their gathering and fun. While the adult characters in the cast were certainly nothing to complain about, they did not seem to have the energy or warmth that the sisters could pull off.
Little Women is a story about family, the understanding of differences, and how those differences can build one another up during hard times and during joy. It is an excellent way to celebrate the holiday season. Ruiz as Jo is one of the best representations of the way that Jo March embodies that spirit of uniqueness and independence. It was an absolute pleasure to watch her bring the role to life. I feel like it was a fine way to ring in the holiday spirit.