By Tom Titus
June 11, 2015
Musical versions of time-honored classic novels such as "Les Miserables" and "The Phantom of the Opera" have enjoyed overwhelming success on the Broadway stage. Now comes a tuned-up rendition of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel "Little Women," currently occupying the stage of the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
Fans of the novel and its sequels will cherish this fresh look at the four March sisters and their mother, who fend for themselves while their father/husband is off to war (that's the Civil War, this being a contemporary, late 1880s, story). Others may believe that the show seems a bit too long and overdone.
Musical numbers truly flesh out the characterizations, which are further embellished by director Aurora J. Culver, debuting in that capacity at the playhouse. Culver takes particular care to stress the individuality of the characters, particularly second daughter Jo, who rebels against society and turns out "blood and guts" potboilers in her quest to become a writer.
The Costa Mesa production boasts a solid cast and a blockbuster performance from the actress playing Jo - Mazie Wilson. Not only does Wilson command the stage dramatically, her voice - particularly in solo numbers such as "Astonishing," which closes the first act - is indeed astonishing. Her favorite expletive, "Christopher Columbus," pops up on what seems like a dozen occasions.
Another superlative performance is delivered by Emily Price as Marmee, the staunch, loving matron of the brood. Price excels in her solos of "Here Alone" and "Days of Plenty," stressing her travails as a lonely mother of four contentious girls. Her gentle attempts at familial diplomacy are quite admirable.
Elder daughter Meg is delightfully interpreted by Deva Marie Gregory, whose discovery of romance is heartwarming. Maggie Goodman sweetly enacts the beautiful but frail Beth, whose dreams of a musical career are bolstered by an unexpected gift from a crotchety neighbor.
The bratty youngest daughter, Amy, whose maturation process is a joy to watch, is rendered with sass and spirit by Lauren Oseas. Stephanie Thomas lends credence as the haughty family matriarch to whom no act or gesture is quite right or proper.
Jim Pack is quite believable as the frosty widower across the way whose cold heart is melted by Beth's music. Joey Nestra is fine as the old man's ebullient grandson, who pursues Jo with youthful ardor before finding a more suitable companion in Amy.
Matt Acuna plays Meg's suitor, John Brooke, with bashful enthusiasm. Hans Kelsen emerges from the background into Jo's heart as an "older" (at 34) professor of German sharing a boarding house with the sisters.
Jo's literary accomplishments are illustrated in a pair of swashbuckling melodramas in which disguised cast members participate with relish. Watching the squabbling sisters mature and grow closer over a seven-year period is particularly enjoyable.
Playwright Alan Knee's adaptation of the novel hits a few snags as it attempts to squeeze virtually all of Alcott's prose into the stage version. The score by Jason Howland (music) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics) is faithful to the characters, and musical direction by Jared M. Pugh keeps the show vibrant and affecting.
"Little Women" has been around for over a century, and its new, musical adaptation will further enhance this enchanting story, revived with an abundance of heart and spirit at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot, Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent.
If You Go
What: "Little Women"
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through June 38
Cost: $18 to $22
Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com