Little Women: The Musical
Indianapolis Civic Theatre
Directed by Michael J. Lasley
Through Oct. 1
Recreating a story that so many generations have loved is a tricky task. When a book jumps to a new medium, plots and situations must be altered in order to accommodate the limitations inherent in that medium. For those of us who grew up in love with Laurie and felt the pain of Beth’s death as if she was a real sister, Little Women: The Musical pales in comparison to its source. The heart of the book is lost in this adaptation, much as typeface is a regimental shadow of cursive writing.
Taking the spin seen in the 1994 movie version, Little Women: The Musical frames the story with the adult Jo and her eventual writing of Little Women, alluding to author Louisa May Alcott as Jo. Of course, this plot twist isn’t in the book, and Little Women is not really autobiographical. However, anyone who has read the book has had the daydream that Lou is Jo, so it’s not a far stretch.
From here, we get a Cliff’s Notes version of the story, from the Christmas of Laurie (never called “Teddy” here) meeting the Marches to Amy’s wedding to Laurie and engagement of Jo to professor Bhaer.
The songs themselves are rather forgettable and there is no “show stopper.” However, Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s cast turns in charming performances of them, especially Jessica Murphy (a senior at Warren Central High School) as Jo and Peggy Chambers as Marmee. All the March girls (in addition to Murphy: Theresa Koleszar as Meg, Christy Walker as Beth and Lauren E. Kossack as Amy) are spot-on, if a little over-enthusiastic, with their characters’ personalities. Chambers captures the loving mother with finesse. John O’Brien is adequate as Laurie, but doesn’t play as significant a role here as in the book.
Overall, however, an elusive element is missing to make the story seem a cohesive whole. A combination of scripting — mashing together important turning points such as Jo being denied her trip to Europe and Marmee leaving to tend to her sick husband — and slow pacing in the first act make for an uneven production. Plus, events that are supposed to give us dramatic insight are glossed over: When Amy burns Jo’s manuscript in the first act, Jo’s reaction isn’t the blow-up necessary to make Amy’s later fall through the ice and their reconciliation as intense as it should be.
Atmospherically, the show is lush. Christopher Arthur’s costume design is picturesque and the scenic design, by Ryan Koharchik, is, as usual, unique and flexible, and not overwhelming. Scene changes in the show are exceptionally smooth.
Little Women: The Musical, under the direction of Michael J. Lasley, continues at the Civic through Oct. 1. Tickets are $31 Fridays-Sundays and $24 Thursdays. Call the Civic, 317-923-4597, 3200 Cold Spring Road, for reservations.