Teens dynamic in 'Little Women'
January 20, 2009 · Updated 7:28 PM
By ERIC HORSTING
For The Beachcomber
One of the most moving scenes in the musical “Little Women,” a first-rate production continuing this weekend at the Bethel Church, takes place on Cape Cod, Mass., in September 1865.
Beth, one of the four young March sisters, is dying of scarlet fever. She’s in a wheelchair near the ocean, and sister Jo, her favorite, is comforting her.
Projected on a nearby wall is a large photograph of the ocean.
Beth wants to fly a kite, and Jo helps her get one into the air. It feels like a miracle, the kite dancing as if there really is a wind while the two women speak what may be their last words with each other.
And even more miraculous is this: The kite is lit so that its shadow intrudes on the photo, as if the world of stage and the world of the ocean, inside and outside, become one, as they do in our imaginations.
The inventiveness of the Cape Cod moment is all one with the kind of attention everyone has given to making this show outstanding.
Project director Marita Ericksen and director Rich Wiley have a crew of more than 20 talented Vashon teenagers, who perform so well that they seem like veterans of the musical stage.
The actors playing the sisters are astonishing. Emma Hennessey is a full-bodied and full-voiced dynamo as Jo. Anna Rose Warren as Amy, Jo’s competitor, shines in her transformation from whining kid to happy wife.
Elizabeth Schoen as Meg changes from a person who can’t dance to the romantic sister who’s the first to marry. And Madeleine Wolczko reveals a terrific pop-singing voice that captures the pain and anguish of Beth’s deep sadness.
Megan Hackett convincingly conveys both the age and stoicism of Marmee, the sisters’ mother who’s an emotional rock while her chaplain husband is off at the Civil War tending to the soldiers. It’s a far distance from playing the child Annie, which Hackett did in the musical of that name a few years ago.
Maya Krah pulls off a tough role, getting us to admire and like Aunt March, who’s hard to like with her insistence on propriety and realism. (The sisters tend not to want to follow rules, especially Jo.)
Sage Everett brings a winning comic awkwardness to the role of Laurie, the neighbor boy who’s rejected in love by Jo, his best friend. And Zoe Adberg plays Mrs. Laurence, Laurie’s grandmother, with a nicely restrained wry humor. (In the original script the character is Mr. Laurence, Laurie’s grandfather.)
David Katz, who played the prince in the recent Vashon High School production of “Cinderella,” sings wonderfully. This time, playing Professor Bhaer, he again marries the play’s main character, but now he’s much more hesitant. It’s Jo who’s the powerhouse in his life.
And Devan Barnes eloquently plays John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor who eventually marries Meg and goes off to the war himself.
The script is based, of course, on Louisa May Alcott’s celebrated novel of the same name, one that’s seen multiple screen incarnations as well as an operetta and (surprise) an anime film.
The story of the four young sisters growing up in a Victorian household in Concord, Mass., is a very familiar piece of America culture, so I haven’t hesitated to reveal plot points because most know them.
What’s striking about the present script is how central Jo becomes: She, like Alcott, is a writer, and the musical centers on her struggles to find her way in the publishing world. Jo almost becomes the narrator of her own life, and of course she ends up writing a book very much like “Little Women,” which was in fact semi-autobiographical.
The play, which I urge everyone to see, is the first of yearly presentations by Vashon Island Teen Musical Theater Project.
— Eric Horsting is The Beachcomber’s former arts editor.