It would be difficult to overstate how excited I was to hear that Little Women would be the Just So freshers’ production. This is one of the most underrated musicals of all time: a quirky, irresistibly heartfelt adaptation of Alcott’s classic novel packed with songs you’ll keep singing for weeks.
This production, directed by Kate Stamoulis and Molly Ketcheson, showcased some delightful performances. The March sisters were perfectly cast: Mackenzie Pinkin as Jo filled the stage with power and infectious sass; Emma Johnston as Meg was radiant and demure; Harriet Tyler as Beth shone with sweetness to the bitter end; and Aria Ornes as Amy managed to be sullen, insufferable, and sympathetic all at once. Ornes and Pinkin both demonstrated considerable vocal chops—as did Mhairi Claire Lynch as the long-suffering Marmee. Her stillness and strength were a poignant counterpoint to the sisters’ antics, and her Act I number “Here Alone” was the strongest of the show. Also of note was Alex Schellekens, who tackled the vocally demanding role of Laurie with exquisite awkwardness and impeccable comic timing.
The StAge is notoriously tricky for musicals, but this team has proven that sound imbalance and mic gaffes need not be the norm for this venue. The balance was the best I have heard in the StAge: Felicity Edward’s orchestra never overpowered the vocalists, and dialogue was consistently amplified to the back of that bottomless seating rack. In spite of a few timing issues between the singers and the orchestra, I was impressed by the overall sound design—as well as by the lighting, which delineated the many spaces of the show, including Jo’s iconic attic and the imaginary world of her blood-and-guts stories.
With the exception of the lighting, the show left something to be desired visually. Justine Karen’s period costumes were stunning—I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wear a dress as well as Johnston wore her green ballgown—but characters stayed in the same costumes for most of the show, even though the story spans the better part of ten years. The emotional arc that takes place over this time was not reflected physically in any meaningful way. The set was bare without aspiring to minimalism, and there were a number of puzzling physical issues, such as the absence of the much-discussed patch on Jo’s dress; Pinkin’s lovely blonde locks which were worn at their longest in the scene where Jo cuts her hair scandalously short; and a glaringly anachronistic keyboard which stood in for both a battered old piano and a beautiful new piano, but was never actually played.
Though there were moments of magic, the performance as a whole suffered from a lack of energy. The sequences of melodrama from Jo’s book fell flat, vocalists tended to lose confidence in their higher registers, and no romantic pairing had any chemistry to speak of—especially compared with the strong emotional connection between the four sisters. The orchestra struggled to deliver the power necessary for numbers like “Astonishing,” where Pinkin’s robust sound was left on a shaky instrumental foundation.
In spite of these issues, Little Women was bursting with the heart, pluck, and empowerment of the March sisters. I left still singing the songs, feeling inspired to “astonish the world” and excited to see what this new team will bring us in the future.