THE RETURN OF A FAMILY CLASSIC!
November 16 - December 23
Little Women -
The Broadway Musical
Book by Allan Knee
Music by Jason Howland
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Directed by Casey Long*
Music Direction by Bill Strongin*
Choreography by Jessie McLean
- 11/19/12 ARTICLE: LA Stage Times
- 11/19/12 REVIEW: Back Stage
- 11/21/12 REVIEW: Orange County Register
- 11/21/12 REVIEW: StageSceneLA WOW!
Writer, Writer, Burning Bright
by Casey Long for LA Stage Times
|Laura M. Hathaway, Valerie Sloan, Tasha Tormey and Erika C. Miller
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
The holidays can be a predictable time for theater. Numerous productions of different variations on A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life and other holiday- and winter-themed productions flood the scene. At the Chance, we wanted to do something a little different. We wanted to honor the spirit of the holiday and give families something to do together, without sticking to the standard fare.
Back in 2007, my artistic director Oanh Nguyen and I started brainstorming about what to do. We had already done two bold re-imaginings of A Christmas Carol and one musical version of It’s A Wonderful Life, but we agreed that there was a desire in our community for an alternative. When the idea of doing a musical version of the novel Anne of Green Gables was proposed, we agreed that it was potentially the answer we’d been looking for. Staged with just a platform, four book flats and a projection screen, the production focused in on the characters and journey of young orphan Anne Shirley and her misadventures in Avonlea. The audience turnout, and critical response, confirmed that a story that captured the essence of the holiday — family, love and the bond of friendship — could be a satisfying artistic alternative during wintertime.
Then we had an interesting thought. Even though we had already been producing The Eight: Reindeer Monologues for many years, thereby becoming an un-holiday tradition for many of our patrons, we thought perhaps it would be more interesting to expand out Mainstage show into a series of adaptations of family novels.
The next one we chose was Little Women — The Broadway Musical (the remount opened this Saturday), and followed that up with The Secret Garden — The Musical the following year. Combined with Anne, we now had our Holiday Literature Series, which rotates through these three shows every year.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to direct all three of the Holiday Literature Series productions. Although all these musicals have similar themes (strong central female character, the loss of a family members, etc.), each has its own distinct identity. Anne is the most wholesome with more of hymnal score; Secret Garden has a much darker tone, which makes it more of a ghost story than a holiday show; and Little Women has one of the strongest landmark female characters in literature, the indomitable Jo March.
Little Women also has the most popular soundtrack of the three, containing numerous songs that I’m sure many directors have heard at countless auditions, including “Astonishing,” “Here Alone” and “Some Things Are Meant to Be.” Approaching the show again this year for the remount, it struck me how much this story explores the idea of artistic maturity. When we first meet Jo, she’s struggling to find her voice as a writer, having only previously written “blood and guts” stories that her sisters enjoyed performing for their beloved Marmee and neighbors during Christmastime. But when Jo is confronted with the idea that her writing could be “better,” she goes on a journey through her memory to find something deeper and uncover the artist that she was always meant to be.
|Valerie Sloan, Tasha Tormey, Eloise Coopersmith,
Laura M. Hathaway and Erika C. Miller
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
As a theater artist, I can relate to this journey, as well. Three years ago I was a different director than I am today. When we first produced the show at the Chance in 2009, I focused on the ups and downs in Jo’s life, on the relationships and her growth from a young precocious teenager to a sophisticated young woman who was truly “astonishing.” Although those themes are still present in this year’s production (how could they not be?), I found myself drawn to Jo’s insistence that she has a “fire” within her, representing her unrelenting spirit and sometimes irrational behavior, that was almost always out of place in the 1860s. The entire production can be charted by the level of Jo’s fire, reaching the heights of an inferno during an unexpected marriage proposal, to the smoldering embers when tragedy touches her life. But it’s important to note that the fire never deserts her, and matures along with Jo during the course of the story. By the end, the fire no longer burns wildly like it did when she was young but is just as bright, if not brighter.
This “fire” that Jo speaks of is present in all artists. We are irrational creatures, refusing to listen to reason when our friends and family insist that we get “real jobs.” Also, what feeds the fire is personal expression and being true to ourselves, regardless of the reaction. We know that to compromise our own mission would do nothing more than to gradually extinguish what propels us forward.
Since we opened our doors back in 1999, the Chance has always been committed to doing works that are personally important, promote dialogue within our community, and help our resident artists (and other local artists) push themselves to the next level. Our shows have met with varying degrees of success (won awards for some, small audiences for others), but that has never been our focus. It is best to be like Jo and not follow the trends of the time, but set your own mission and follow it…and hopefully people will follow.
So this holiday season, I hope you join us at the Chance to celebrate the spirit of Jo March—and artists everywhere. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you may even find yourself inspired to explore your own inner fire, and hold who and what you love just a little bit closer.
Little Women, Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave. in Anaheim Hills, Calif., 92807. Plays Thurs-Fri 8pm; Sat 3pm and 8pm; Sun 2pm and 7pm Friday. Through December 22. Tickets: $30-$45. Call (714) 777-3033 or visit www.chancetheater.com
Innocence of 'Little Women' as charming as ever
by Eric Marchese, Orange County Register
|Tasha Tormey and Erika C. Miller
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
The conceit that the Chance Theater's current staging of "Little Women: The Broadway Musical" is "a Holiday Literature Series production," as the show is introduced to us before it begins, is a bit of stretch, as no such series exists.
By the same token, the subhead "Broadway musical" as applied to the 2005 show by Alan Knee (book), Jason Howland (music) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics) feels less like an accurate term, more imposed by promoters and marketers.
The show features only a couple of company-wide numbers, no real show-stoppers, no huge song-and-dance production numbers and no elements of spectacle – all of the elements the description "Broadway musical" have come to represent.
And, thank goodness for all of that, because this version of "Little Women" is a sweet, gentle, intimate and often wistful tale of four young ladies coming of age during the Civil War at their home in Concord, Mass., while their father is serving as a chaplain in the Union Army.
Director Casey Long and his 11 cast members deliver a heartfelt and often moving experience to audience members of all ages. This is a fine holiday production for families perhaps worn out by seasonal rehashes of "A Christmas Carol."
Main character Jo Marsh (a superb Erika C. Miller) is, of course, the alter-ego of author Louisa May Alcott, who uses the character to show how she evolved from a somewhat manic creator of formulaic potboilers to a serious writer whose first major publication – the 1867 novel "Little Women," of course – revolved around her life and family from 1863 to 1866.
As depicted, the more publishers tried to urge Alcott to give up on becoming a writer and instead marry and start a family, the more urgently she tried to forge a career which numbered precious few women.
The four March sisters are the focus. Eldest sister Meg (Laura M. Hathaway) is a beauty and a romantic. Jo is the hard-charging tomboy. Beth (Tasha Tormey) is kind, gentle and musically talented. Amy (Valerie Sloan) is a vain egotist but also a talented artist.
Long's raft of fine actors make their characters accessible, expressing the now quaintly charming formality of the 19th century without artifice. As in the novel, Marmee is a pillar of strength and wisdom, but in the role, Eloise Coopersmith's scorching song "Days of Plenty" reveals the vulnerability, pain and grief just below the surface, while her solo "Here Alone" is tender and moving
Hathaway's Meg is generous and supportive while boy-crazy but also shy. Tormey is a suitably angelic Beth. Sloan and Kelsey Jones represent Amy at two stages: Sloan as the bratty 11-year-old with the huge sense of entitlement, Jones as the slightly older but more mature young lady, all spite and anger removed.
|Glenn Koppel and Tasha Tormey
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Chris Caputo, Sherry Domerego, Glenn Koppel and Taylor Stephenson transcend the script's limitations – Caputo as the soft-spoken, courtly teacher from Germany who falls for and marries Jo, Domerego as the imperious, stuffy and snobby Aunt March, Koppel as the wealthy and strait-laced yet kind neighbor Mr. Laurence and Stephenson as the kind, handsome tutor who proposes to Meg.
The character of Laurie, the boy-next-door who becomes Jo's best friend, then falls in love with her, is often glossed over. Long and Brandon Sanchez succeed in making him more well-rounded and realistic, his egotism comically endearing.
At the center of it all is Jo, and Miller highlights the young woman's fierce determination to forge her own path in life and to be treated as the equal of any man. Miller captures Jo's complex nature; her four captivating solos reveal Jo's boldness
Howland's generic sounding music prevents any of the show's 19 songs from being memorable. Where "Little Women" makes its mark is in Dickstein's lyrics, which echo Knee's dialogue and help forge distinctive personalities borne out by the cast's portrayals.
Musical director Bill Strongin, who plays Howland's score from an onstage piano, and choreographer Jessie McLean, whose lively yet tasteful dance routines provide a crucial visual element, serve the more or less chamber musical style of the show.
David McCormick's fight choreography lends splashes of color and action to an otherwise staid scenario via the funny, deliberately over-the-top re-creations of scenes from "An Operatic Tragedy," the melodramatic first novel Jo tries in vain to sell, in 1866, before turning to a subject she knows and has lived.
Also eye-appealing are Miller's costumes, a virtual showcase of period finery; Masako Tobaru's storybook-like scenic design of yellowing, oversized blowups of pages from "Little Women"; and Long's projection design, which features various interior and exterior scenes photographed in muted colors, bringing elements of the real world to each scene.
Family-Friendly "Little Women" Returns to L.A. Stage
by Eric Marchese, Back Stage
|Eloise Coopersmith, Valerie Sloan and Laura M. Hathaway
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” has been adapted countless times, primarily for film and television, so a stage production was inevitable and a musicalized version even more so. Since Allan Knee’s book is more or less self-contained, the show could have even been a non-musical. Its sugary-sweet sentimentality will always appeal to families in general, children in particular. Just as Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics serve the plot, Jason Howland’s rather unremarkable music exists mainly in service to the lyrics. That combination makes “Little Women – The Broadway Musical” something of a theatrical trifle.
Director Casey Long wisely and correctly puts the emphasis on Knee’s script and Erika C. Miller’s portrayal of protagonist Jo. Whereas Jo (Alcott’s alter ego) is typically described as a tomboy, Long and Miller stress the character’s truly progressive search for gender equality in American society at a time when women were still viewed as baby factories. Prominent are Jo’s stubborn independence, blunt candor, defiance of society’s conventions, fierce loyalty to family and friends, and yearning to become a published author. Miller highlights the character’s joie de vivre, and her emotion-packed vocals soar above her cast mates’ while expressing Jo’s personality, choices, and actions.
Marmee and younger sister Amy excepted, most of the characters surrounding Jo are more like archetypal sketches than real people. Amy is the only character whose arc is portrayed first as a young child (played by Valerie Sloan), then a more mature young lady (Kelsey Jones). Sloan stresses child Amy’s resentment of Jo and her own surprising self-loathing, while Jones as the older Amy is exceedingly polite, the character having been transformed into something entirely conventional, all traces of ferocity removed. But Meg (Laura M. Hathaway) is simply the eldest sister, a hopeless romantic, and Beth (Tasha Tormey) is aptly defined by her sweet, kind, and unimposing nature.
Eloise Coopersmith gives the part of supportive and wise Marmee a sense of world-weariness and sorrow she keeps hidden from her daughters. Laurie is also a well fleshed-out character, and in the role, Brandon Sanchez is endearingly conceited and credibly lovesick for Jo. Chris Caputo’s Professor Bhaer is erudite and courtly in his courting of Jo, while privately (and in song) impassioned about his love for her. Sherry Domerego’s no-nonsense Aunt March tries to steer Jo toward becoming a society belle before she moves on to remaking Amy in her own image. Glenn Koppel’s Mr. Laurence is an aristocratic, proper old gent softened by Beth’s love of playing his piano.
Playing the entire score on an onstage piano, musical director Bill Strongin provides a firm yet delicate underpinning for the vocalists. Jessie McLean’s choreography is well integrated into the song scenes. Masako Tobaru’s set design features pages from the Alcott novel, blown up into huge age-yellowed panels, while muted color still photos that are projected onto an upstage screen provide a pleasing variety of interior and exterior backdrops to the action. Miller’s period costumes for herself and the show’s women are especially lovely, with the gents clothed in handsome finery as well.
Presented by and at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Nov. 17–Dec. 23. (714) 777-3033 or www.chancetheater.com.
Little Women: The Broadway Musical
by Steven Stanley, StageSceneLA
Sanchez and Erika C. Miller
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Little Women The Broadway Musical returns to the Chance Theater for the first time since its maiden holiday engagement in 2009, and to paraphrase an Oscar-nominated song, the Chance hit proves even more wonderful the second time around.
Erika C. Miller is back as Louisa May Alcott stand-in Jo March, along with director Casey Long, Eloise Coopersmith as Marmie, Sherry Domerego as Aunt March, Glenn Koppel as Mr. Lawrence, and Brandon Sanchez as Laurie. The rest of the cast is brand new, as are musical director Bill Strongin, assistant director Camryn Zelinger, and several of the production’s designers, the result of which is a Little Women which retains the best of 2009 but (and now I paraphrase Jo) embellishes on what was already quite terrific and makes it even better than before.
As StageSceneLA readers must know by now, Little Women The Broadway Musical has been a favorite of mine since I first heard its tuneful score (music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein) and later saw a performance of the National Tour. Book writer Allan Knee has somehow managed to compact Alcott’s 400-plus-word novel into a two-and-a-half hour musical which retains the book’s most memorable moments (Jo’s stealing a Christmas tree from the neighboring Laurence family’s property, jealous Amy burning Jo’s manuscript, Jo’s shame at finding a scorch mark on her gown the night of the big party, etc.) while adding songs which run the gamut from Jo’s feisty “Better” to the bouncy “I’d Be Delighted,” to the rousing Act 1 closer “Astonishing.”
The Chance Theater has once again scaled down the 2005 Broadway production to intimate theater dimensions (a full orchestra becomes a single piano here), the smaller setting providing a particularly appropriate fit for Alcott’s family tale. Under Long’s direction (even more imaginative and inspired this time round), a quintet of musical theater triple-threats bring the four March sisters to vibrant life (two actresses appear as Amy), and with its all-around excellent supporting cast, this is an evening of theater sure to enchant not only Little Women’s legion of fans but just about any musical theater aficionado.
At lights up, we’re in New York as aspiring writer Jo describes to her German friend Professor Bhaer a story she’s written. “It’s a mean and stormy night,” she begins. “The moors are bleak and bloody. Thunder claps. Lighting strikes. And there, Clarissa, her clothes in disarray, races across the wild coastal heath.” Then, as Jo continues her tale in song, lights come up on her sister Meg, friend John Brooke, and boy-next-door Laurie Laurence costumed as Clarissa, Braxton, and Rodrigo. As Jo tells her melodramatic adventure tale, her gestures are mimicked in perfect sync by the characters she’s created (or is she mimicking them?). Rodrigo has just entered “in magnificent splendor” when Professor Bhaer interrupts Jo with a critique and some words of advice. Certainly Jo could do better than this, couldn’t she? “Better?!” exclaims an infuriated Jo. “My stories were a great success in Concord!”
We then flash back several years to the Concord, Massachusetts home of the March family. The year is 1863. The Civil War is still raging, and the family patriarch is serving as a Union Army chaplain. Left at home is his wife “Marmee” and daughters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, who pass their time enacting Jo’s romantic adventure stories. Tomboy Jo dreams of being a writer, and when her Aunt March offers her the chance to travel to Europe as her companion (on condition that Jo learn to act like a lady), Jo jumps at the chance. Unfortunately for Jo, becoming a true lady is easier said than done, and when she discovers that jealous younger sister Amy has burned her latest story in a fit of pique, Jo reacts in a very unladylike manner.
For anyone unfamiliar with Little Women’s multiple plotlines, synopsizing ends here. Suffice it to say that there will be joys, sorrows, disappointments, romances, wedding proposals, and an ending promising much more still in store for the March sisters. (Alcott did, after all, write two sequels to Little Women.)
If I described Chance Theater co-founder Miller’s performance as spunky, romantic Jo as “possibly her best ever” back in 2009, she is even more captivating in 2012, investing the iconic Alcott role with added depth and singing with even more power and pizzazz.
Miller is matched every step of the way by her brand new sisters, beginning with Laura M. Hathaway, who not only looks and acts the part of the beautiful, caring Meg but sings quite gloriously to boot.
There’s not a trace of West Side Story Jet girl Minnie (her previous Chance role) in Tasha Tormey’s exquisite, heartbreaking Beth. (Talk about versatility!)
Erika C. Miller
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Once again director Long splits the role of Amy between child and young adult actresses, a brilliant choice which makes the character’s childish moments far more believable than with an adult actress pretending to be twelve.
Young Amy understudy Cori McKay has star written all over her in a performance that recalls a very young Lindsay Lohan circa "The Parent Trap", i.e. back when Lohan showed an abundance of talent and promise.
Kelsey Jones shines too in her Act Two scenes as Older Amy and in her charming duet of “The Most Amazing Thing” with Sanchez, an absolutely winning Laurie in 2009, and every more dashing three years later. (Kudos to Sanchez for hitting the absurdly high notes composer Howland has given him in “Take A Chance On Me.”)
Bearded blond Taylor Stephenson makes for a John Brooke any Meg would fall head over heels for, and duets a gorgeous “More Than I Am” with Hathaway as his intended.
As for the professor who eventually steals our narrator’s heart, Chris Caputo plays and sings the stuffy yet secretly romantic Bhaer quite splendidly as well.
Returning adults Coopersmith, Domergo, and Koppel have taken their already marvelous Marmie, Aunt March, and Mr. Lawrence, and given them new layers and colors. Coopersmith coaxes more than a few tears with the show’s two two most gorgeous, moving ballads Domerego is once again hilariously quirky as both Aunt March and Jo’s New York landlady Mrs. Kirk. And if I wrote in 2009 that “Koppel couldn’t be better as gruff Mr. Laurence with a heart of mush,” I take that back. He’s even better three years later.
Little Women 2009 marked resident company member Long’s first solo directorial assignment at the Chance, at which time I raved about his bang-up work, his many personal touches, and the clever bits of business he gave to the three-dimensional characters his cast of actors had created. Long has since then honed his skills as a director as this “even better” (I’m quoting myself now) return engagement makes abundantly clear.
Jessie McLean has once again choreographed several charming dance sequences. Masako Tobaru’s effective lighting design complements her imaginative scenic design, which has pages from Alcott’s book on either side of the stage and new-for-2012 projections (by Long) setting the scene. (I do wish there were a way to keep those projections vibrant and vivid when the lights go up on the actors.) Costume designer Miller has created outfits that are not only period-perfect but fit each character’s personality to a T. Director Long is once again responsible for the production’s fine sound design, which amplifies voices just enough to ensure that each song is clearly heard above musical director Bill Strongin’s impeccable onstage piano accompaniment. Fight choreographer David McCormick has coached some exciting swordplay for Jo’s swashbuckling stories. Teodora Ramos is stage manager.
Far more than last year’s holiday offering Anne Of Green Gables, Little Women The Broadway Musical gives Chance audiences a show that adults can enjoy every bit as much as children. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Little Women is a musical for adults—that just happens to be equally enjoyable for the younger set.
Put all of the above together and you’ve got quite possibly the best musical choice for Orange County audiences this holiday season … and one that L.A. musical theater lovers will want to be sure and catch as well.
The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Through December 22. Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00. Reservations: 714 777-3033
posted by Floyd Farano on 11/26/12
The Direction was outstanding. Likewise the acting from the opening to the closing scene. The actors fit their parts as they were born to them. Erika was beyond special.
posted by Kelly Holliday on 11/26/12
Absolutely wonderful performance--Broadway quality! The acting was superb and the beauty and perfection of the musical numbers brought me to tears. Made it just in time for curtain-Whew!! Thank you all--you should be so proud!!
posted by Eileen Garbutt on 11/26/12
Wonderful as is all your productions. Bravo.
An excellent holiday choice for
the entire family
posted by Kevin Traster on 11/26/12
An excellent cast, imaginative set-up and terrific live music makes this an excellent holiday choice for the entire family any time of the year. This live interpretation of Louisa May Alcott's classic is better than all the movies: 1933, 1949 or 1994! Lucky us in SoCal: when we can't catch it on Broadway, we can enjoy a perfect afternoon with real talent. There is no bad seat at a Chance Theater performance. Love them!
We love the show!
posted by Jeri McKay on 11/26/12
We love the show! The Director's Casey and Camryn did an amazing job with this classic play! I was more than surprised at the caliber of the acting and vocal talent of every single cast members. The March sister's are all amazing! You rarely get to see this level of talent in a small theater and I will be recommending it to all of my friends as a must see for the holidays!