Review: ‘Little Women – The Broadway Musical’
Great performances kick musical up a notch
Is it possible to love a show’s kick-ass cast and every performance therein without being particularly impressed by the play itself?
As I sat through the first act of “Little Women – The Broadway Musical” last week at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre, I kept thinking that something was missing.
Evidently, so, too, did a few people sitting around me. You know it’s not a good sign when the woman’s snores from directly behind me elicited more of a response from the audience than did some of the show in front of us. And the scowl cemented on the face of the man next to me never changed. (In fact, I was tempted to poke him once or twice to make sure he was still breathing, for despite the fact that his eyes were glued to the stage, he never reacted in any way, shape or form – except to rudely leap out of his seat at the beginning of the curtain call to head for the lobby.)
It took only until the musical’s second act for the answer to become clear: Not much happens in the first half that really grabs the hearts and minds of the audience – it’s unexciting and pedestrian, despite dynamite performances by each and every performer.
When the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel begins, we find unpublished author Jo March in New York trying to sell her “blood and guts” story to a big-time publisher. (In one of the play’s clever bits, Jo narrates her swashbuckling tale to fellow boarding house resident Professor Bhaer while the story comes to life behind her.) The plot then jumps a few years into the past where we meet the rest of the March family: sisters Amy, Beth and Meg; mother Marmee; and Aunt March. Also introduced are the unfriendly (but wealthy) next-door neighbor, Mr. Lawrence, and his grandson, Laurie.
With the family’s patriarch serving his country during the Civil War, the women are struggling nobly to survive: The girls put on an “operatic masterpiece” at Christmas time, Aunt March promises to take Jo to Europe if she’ll change her ways, Meg and Jo go to a ball, a jealous Amy strikes back at Jo, Meg sprains her ankle, Mr. Lawrence’s heart softens, Amy falls through some ice and Laurie becomes the brother the girls never had. And the girls promise to be “the four March sisters forever.”
And that’s the problem with the show’s first act. Unlike a book that can take its time to fully develop its characters and plot threads, writer Allan Knee condenses far too much into too short a time – and much gets sacrificed in the process. The result is a long, meandering string of unexciting and unemotional “slice of life” events that seemingly march – pun fully intended – nowhere in particular.
It’s a whole different story after intermission, however, as the required dramatic tension finally surfaces and its plot becomes more focused.
But what never waivers from start to finish are the fine performances by Maureen MoGovern (Marmee), Kate Fisher (Jo) and the rest of the cast. Particularly noteworthy are character actors Andrew Varela (Prof. Bhaer) and Louisa Flaningham (Aunt March) who are truly delightful!
“Little Women – The Broadway Musical” runs Tue.-Sun., through Dec. 18 & Dec. 27-Dec. 1 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd.,Detroit. Tickets: $32.50-$72.50. For information: 313-872-1000 or http://www.nederlanderdetroit.com
The Bottom Line: The inspirational novel gets a less than inspirational adaptation, despite uniformly excellent performances.
OPINION: Confessions of a Cranky Critic
Help wanted bringing LGBT theater to Detroit; apply within
It’s no secret that I’ve long been a proponent of LGBT theater. It’s my belief that there’s not enough of it in a community – or state – our size. But for some reason, no one has stepped forward and created a professional company that produces only LGBT-themed plays. There’s been plenty of talk, to be sure, but little action.
There are plenty of reasons for that, of course. Producing a professional season takes money, and some thespians I’ve talked with aren’t totally convinced a season of queer theater would sell.
Thankfully, established and LGBT-friendly companies such as Performance Network Theatre, Plowshares Theatre Company, the Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company, Planet Ant Theatre and the Blackbird Theatre have all picked up the ball and staged productions with LGBT themes and characters.
But that’s not enough.
So more than four years ago, BTL co-publisher Susan Horowitz and I hatched a plan to bring LGBT theater to Detroit as a way to stimulate interest in LGBT theater by fans and artists alike.
How we’d do so, we thought, was quite exciting: We would join forces with the National Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival that runs every other September in Columbus, Ohio. Our goal was to invite several of the national and international artists to bring their shows to Detroit after their runs in Ohio, but for several reasons, our plans never materialized. Not for the 2002 festival, nor for the 2004.
Now it’s time to begin planning the 2006 festival. But in order for something of this magnitude to succeed, we need to pull together a team willing to work their collective butts off for the good of the community. And to do that, Susan and I envision the creation of an independent LGBT non-profit arts organization that would sponsor not only the Detroit theater festival, but other community arts programs, as well. (Susan and I would NOT be a part of this new organization, however; we’d simply serve as consultants to get the project moving.)
Some of the groundwork has already been laid, but new leadership is needed – and needed soon – if this is to become reality.
So the question now is this: Is there anyone out there who’s willing to invest their time and talent in creating and nurturing such an exciting project?
If so, e-mail me at email@example.com before Jan. 1, 2006.