REVIEW: Little Women: the Musical (NightBlue Theater)

  
  

NightBlue struggles to mold staid story into musical drama

  
  

marmee_girls

  
NightBlue Performing Arts Company presents
  
Little Women: the Musical
  
Created by Allan Knee (book),
Jason Howland (music) & Mindi Dickstein (lyrics)
Directed by
Paul Packer
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15-$30   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

I will admit that I am no fan of the gamut of early to mid-19th century Western literature. I know it’s a sweeping generalization. But there’s something about the pre-Victorian and Victorian novelists that I just find grating. The novel was a novel concept at the time, sweeping the civilized world. Love stories mixed with polite social satire reigned supreme. But to me, it all seems like the imaginings of an overemotional teenager. There’s a reason why Jane Austen‘s “Emma” works so well in its “Clueless” incarnation.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women would easily serve as a parody of this type of literature if it didn’t take itself so seriously. It’s got all the conventions: A young woman with a big dream, strange love affairs, an expansive world that magically seems to be populated with only the work’s characters. Is it really believable that two people in Concord are going to meet up in Italy? Mind you this is without the luxury of cell phones and GPS tracking devices.

In any case, these are flaws with the story, which NightBlue Theater has no control over. Nor does the company have much say in the rather uninspiring songs in the novel’s staged musical version. Still, the decision to produce a play that’s as interesting as sandpaper does fall on NightBlue’s head.

Little Women really is a drama without much drama. Young girls grow into women, people fall in love and someone dies of scarlet fever. And the fact that it takes nearly two-and-a-half hours for NightBlue to tell this story only adds to the complete lack of dramatic tension.

The story of Little Women concerns the March sisters. The protagonist is Jo (Erin O’Shea), a precocious and peppy young woman with big New York dreams. She pens stories of swashbucklers and bloodshed in the hopes of attracting the attention of the popular magazines. Jo has three sisters: Beth (Julia Macholl), Meg (Karyn Dawidowicz) and Amy. The most notable of Jo’s sisters is Amy, played by Linda Rudy, who serves as Jo’s adversary. Jealous of Jo’s beauty and blossoming womanhood, Amy attempts to thwart Jo at every turn, particularly when she tosses one of Jo’s literary works into the fire.

The neighbor boy, Laurie (Shaun Nathan Baer), befriends the girls and quickly falls in love with Jo. When he collects the courage to propose, Jo rejects him. Although it breaks his heart, he eventually finds love elsewhere.

NightBlue is billing the production as a Christmas play. And although the holiday does serve as an occasional backdrop, it’s a bit of a stretch to say Little Women is up there with Miracle on 34th Street (which is coincidentally also up at Stage 773). I also think that their target audience of little girls (they were raffling off a chance to win an American Girl doll the night I went) is a bit of a misfire. Even with musical interludes to break up the monotony of the story, the play drags too long for a child’s attention span. Director Paul E. Packer could omit some scenes and no one would object.

All this said, accolades must be paid to two of the play’s standout performers. O’Shea is put through an endurance test, singing in nearly half of the play’s pieces. She displays her talent as both a superb vocalist and a convincing actress.

Rudy is exceptionally irritating as Amy, which I intend as a compliment given that Amy is supposed to be exceptionally irritating. Rudy adds genuineness to Amy’s huffy, pouty demeanor without crossing over into caricature. You know the antagonist does a good job when you find yourself wanting to reprimand her from your seat.

If you’re a huge Louisa May Alcott fan, you may enjoy this musical version of Little Women. Otherwise, the slow pacing and tame story may just lull you into hibernation.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

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Wednesday Wordplay: Eat before shopping

Motivational Quotes

Eat before shopping. If you go to the store hungry, you are likely to make unnecessary purchases.
            — American Heart Association Cookbook

I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention – invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.
            — Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, 1977

My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.
            — Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, 1962

Often the best way to overcome desire is to satisfy it.
            — W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge, 1943

The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.
            — Heda Bejar

Whatever you are by nature, keep to it; never desert your line of talent. Be what nature intended you for and you will succeed.
            — Sydney Smith

Assumptions are the termites of relationships.
            — Henry Winkler

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
            — Louisa May Alcott

Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.
            — Denis Diderot

To be brave is to love someone unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. To just give. That takes courage, because we don’t want to fall on our faces or leave ourselves open to hurt.
            — Madonna, O Magazine, January 2004

Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.
            — C. S. Lewis

 

Toponyms

 

Toponym – a word derived from a place or location.

Whether it’s when we drink champagne (from Champagne, France), commit a solecism (after Soloi, an Athenian colony in Cilicia), or when we meet our Waterloo (Waterloo, Belgium), we are (perhaps unknowingly) alluding to a distant land and its history. Here are a few examples:

 

  shanghai
 

MEANING:

verb tr.: To recruit someone forcibly or by fraud into doing something.

ETYMOLOGY:

After Shanghai, a major seaport in east China. The term derives from the former practice (mid-1800s to early 1900) of luring men, by the use of drugs, liquor, or violence into serving on US ships destined for East Asia. People who recruited sailors in this manner were called crimps. The practice ended with The Seamen’s Act of 1915 that made crimping a federal crime.

USAGE:

"I know that no one shanghais people into joining the police or becoming a medic, but it does us no harm to remind ourselves from time to time how off-the-scale gnarly these jobs are."
Caitlin Moran; Buttocks on the Skirting Board?; The Times (London, UK); Jan 25, 2010.

   
  Munich
 

MEANING:

noun: A shortsighted or dishonorable appeasement.

ETYMOLOGY:

After Munich, Germany, the site of a pact signed by Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany on Sep 29, 1938 that permitted annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland by Nazi Germany. WWII began a year later; Sudetenland was restored to Czechoslovakia after the war.

USAGE:

"Neoconservatives, writes Jacob Heilbrunn, ‘see new Munichs everywhere and anywhere’."
Andrew J. Bacevich; The Neocondition; Los Angeles Times; Jan 20, 2008.

 

NOTE:   exonym and endonym

The name “Munich”" is an exonym (a name used by outsiders). The local name (endonym) for Munich is München, derived from Mönch (monk) as the city was founded by Benedictine monks in 1158.


 

NEXT UP: The art of “catching up” in traffic

 

Catching Up

Caleb Crain watches the traffic go by:

On the streets of Park Slope, the most dangerous driving seems to occur when drivers are in the throes of the illusion that they are "catching up." If a driver feels that a safe and pleasant speed on a residential street is 15 miles an hour, but an obstacle (such as a double-parked delivery van) temporarily forces the driver to slow down or even stop, he often responds, once he has passed the obstacle, by "catching up." That is, he suddenly accelerates to thirty miles an hour, and holds that speed for half a block or more. What he is "catching up" to is where he thinks his car would be if he hadn’t been forced to slow down. It wasn’t his choice to slow down; it was (and I am rankly indulging here in a fantasy of driver’s psychology, which isn’t such a stretch for me because I, too, drive) somehow unfair that he had to slow down. By revving the engine, he expresses his anger at this injustice and recovers for himself the timespace that the universe, in the form of a double-parked delivery van, had tried to take from him.

 

bootyism

Bootyism is a sexy religion often confused with Budhism.

I know more about Bootyism than I do about Catholicism!

Review: Circle Theatre’s “Little Women”

Holidays with the March Sisters

 The women of Little Women_11

Circle Theatre presents:

Little Women

adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
directed by Bob Kuth
thru December 19th (ticket info)

review by Timothy McGuire

The women of Little Women_1 Circle Theatre offers another quality production of classic literature with their world premiere adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This story is perfect for the holiday season and entertaining anytime of the year. The unselfish themes of giving and love along with warm naturally occurring musicals scenes create a performance that can be enjoyed by the whole family, as well as those other singles out there.

Circle Theatre’s production of Little Women is only based on part one of the series (so no, Beth does not die,) but it is still packed with plenty of drama and conflict to accompany the vibrant personalities of the March sisters. The four sisters are spiritually played by Laura McClain (Meg), Kieran Welsh-Phillips (Jo), Jill Sesso (Beth) and Abigail St. John (Amy.) They playfully tease but overwhelmingly cherish each others company. With their father away serving as Chaplain in the Civil War and their mother doing everything she can to support her husband and country, the four sisters bond together as they grow into their own individuals. The March Family is financially struggling (something many of us can relate to this holiday season) yet still finds ways to constantly support those around them in need and those they want to show they care. Besides the wealthy Aunt March, the whole family is inspired by the closeness between them, and their kind spirit is an inspiration to those that witness them as well.

The cast of Little Women_1The set is designed far more sophisticated than you see at even most of the best storefront theatres in the city. Bob Kuth (Director/ Scenic & Lighting Designer) has created the inside of the March home in Maine warm and delicately decorated for the winter season. The windows are covered in 19th-century drapes and a faded portrait of Mr. March hangs above the fireplace. In the back corner is the simple piano played by Beth to lighten the family’s mood and bring in some holiday cheer and the living room is complete with antique furniture for the family to join together for gossip and companionship. The staircase in back of the stage and second level leading to the door add depth to the large country house, and the performer’s ability to look beyond the audience and through the windows at a scene fictionally taking place off stage turn the small staging area into the open lands of Concord, MA.

Each actress and actor brings a special individuality to their character. The enduring qualities in each sister are brought out by the talented natural performances of each actress. I fell in love with Jo and her rebellious attitude and drive to go after he own desires. Each individual performance in the play strengthens the connection you feel with the relationships that are being formed. Watching this family evolve and connect with their characters can naturally bring out a loving emotional connection to your own family, and that is what the holidays are all about.

Rating: ★★★

 

At Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL, call   708-771-0700, www.circle-theatre.org, tickets $20 – $24 ($2 off for seniors/students), Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

FEATURING: Kevin Anderson • Peter Esposito • Eileen Ferguson • Anita Hoffman • Laura McClainJeremy MyersBrian Rabinowitz • Mary Redmon • Jill Sesso • Abigail St. John •  Kieran Welsh-Phillips.

The company of Little Women_1