(l-r) Arielle Fishman, Emily Koch, Sharon Rietkerk, and Julia Belanoff star as the March sisters - Amy, Jo, Meg, and Beth. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka
Little Women the musical, produced by TheatreWorks, is quite simply one of the best shows I’ve seen this year (and this year has been full of some fantastic shows). One of the best (and rare) parts of reviewing theater is coming across an unexpected gem, and Saturday evening’s Opening Night was the Hope Diamond.
“Little Women”, by Louisa May Alcott, is the story of four sisters who vow to stick together forever when they are young in the 1860s. Father is off in the war, and while the family is short on money, they have an abundance of love. Jo March, the second sister, narrates the story and has ambitions of being a writer. For many young girls who read the book, Jo is the favorite as she insists on living life according to her own terms and not 19th century society’s.
(l-r) Jo (Emily Koch) and Professor Bhaer (Christopher Vettel) imagine a scene from Jo's novel, portrayed by Justin Buchs, Sharon Rietkerk, and Elizabeth Palmer. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka
I loved the book when I was young, but even so I never imagined a Jo as charismatic and exuberant as the one Emily Koch brings to the stage. Her joy in narrating her stories to the audience is palpable, and her physical acting makes it clear this character is made for pants, not long and stuffy skirts. I cannot state enough how much every single actor in this show is perfection, and yet Ms. Koch raises it to a level even beyond that. Jo is the girl we want to be, and later the woman we look up to as a role model.
I was not so sure how well it would work turning Little Women into a musical, but this show is so perfect, and the actors are such incredible singers, that it becomes one of those shows you don’t even realize is a musical. The songs fit so well they are just part of the story and the experience.
And what a story for the young women of today, or any day. This is not merely a story of a girl who refused to put aside her wants and needs in life so she could be someone’s wife, but neither is it a story against marriage. It is a story of deciding what you want from life and accepting nothing else – and sometimes that means changing your mind. Sometimes it means getting married. The right choice is the choice that a woman makes for her own self. And every character in this story does just that.
It’s a joyful story and a heartwarming one, but of course it also has a couple incredibly sad scenes that left everyone in my row wiping their eyes, and the theater was full of sniffling and shaking shoulders when Marmee sings “Days of Plenty”.
Laurie (Matt Dengler) kisses Jo (Emily Koch). Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka
I had had a very long day holiday decorating with my family, and neither my daughter nor myself were keen on driving to Palo Alto to see a show, but never have we felt more grateful that we had done so. We were enthralled from the first moment, mesmerized by the balletic beauty of Meg (Sharon Reitkerk), the sweetness of Beth (Julia Belanoff), the spoiled petulance of Amy (Arielle Fishman), and the utter joyfulness of Jo. We never for a moment wanted to close our eyes or miss one moment. This show is for everyone, including kids perhaps as young as ten (they should be old enough to deal with a very sad death), and it is a perfect show for the holidays and a cold winter night. My highest praise, from one who sees a lot of shows: I would see this show again. And again and again.
Little Women the Musical
Extended through January 4
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Holiday Tea Luncheon at the Garden Court Hotel
with matinee this Saturday, December 14