Theatre Review: A master in story-telling through innovative technology
“Based on Louisa May Alcott’s life, Little Women follows the adventures of sisters, Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March. Jo is trying to sell her stories for publication, but the publishers are not interested – her friend, Professor Bhaer, tells her that she has to do better and write more from herself. Begrudgingly taking this advice, Jo weaves the story of herself and her sisters and their experience growing up in Civil War America.”- summarized from Music Theatre International.
This was now my fourth trip out to The Eagle Theatre and every time I leave spellbound by the technical elements and conceptual story-telling. Little Women: The Musical was no different. Having never seen the musical, nor listened to the score in full, I was extremely fulfilled in nearly every way.
If you experienced their production of The Civil War, Little Women took those bones and layered it. Designed by Ted Wioncek III (Director) and Chris Miller, used their “Innovations Factory” to create a proscenium stage with a rounded black background imbed with window boxes (17 winches) with black mechanical blinds. In every box was some sort of character or artifact from the Civil War era that helped embellish our location throughout the story. Seating at The Eagle is intimate, close to the stage. Visually, the craftsmanship of the boxes and shades were dynamic and their use at times magical. But what really nailed me was how quiet they were. Think about these boxes and perhaps one or two shades would come down at a time and behind those shades the props, artifacts, and set pieces would be swapped out. Then another 5 would rise and show off more properties. Up and down, in and out. Not a peep! You couldn’t hear stage hands nor could you hear the mechanics. My inner technical theatre nerd was overjoyed. Kudos to the stage management team (Rebecca Kestel and Richard Trovato) for conducting over 2000 cues.
On the opposite spectrum were full blown Civil War era garments. Petticoats, corsets, bonnets, layered suits, spats, etc as designed by Ashleigh Poteat. Sometimes, with a stripped down scenic production a director will choose to reduce the costumes as well. Howewer, in this piece, they were fully adorned. Costumes become part of your character and much attributed to the storytelling. Particularly when two of the March sister attend a nearby dance. Although the costumes helped tell time, they at times took away from character development. Specifially in color choices, as tom-boy Jo opens up the show is a bright teal skirt or works most of Act II in a purple dress. Although pieces of art unto themselves, some selections were distracting within the framework.
Lighting design by Chris Miller was extremely effective. LEDS and special effects abound. Again, advanced technology is clearly paramount at The Eagle With the addition of intelligent lighting, it is vital that cues and blocking are precise. With it being opening weekend, it seems they are still working out their timing as some actors missed their marks and caused for some peculiar lighting.
Sitting nearly an hour from Center City, you are treated to talent you don’t often get to see. One of which is Kimberly Suskind (Jo). I’ve seen Kimberly in three productions now and I can honestly say I’ve watched her mature as a performer on stage. Her exploration of Jo March was flawless and utterly believable. Particularly her soul piercing vocals in the Act 1 finale, “Astonishing”. Flawless may be used a lot these days, but in her case, it’s astonishingly true! Jo March is a character that is so very much needed to be portrayed in this political climate. She embodies strength, intelligence, determination, ambition, and love. She proves that you can be satisfied in life without the mandated labors of marriage and motherhood. A story this 41 year old gal needed to be reminded of!
More femme fatales joined forces with Suskind to tell the story of the March sisters and their matriarchs: Maggie Griffin-Smith (Meg), Victoria Mozitis (Beth), and Colleen Murphy (Amy), Marianne Green (Aunt March), and April Woodall (Marmee). Griffin-Smith’s character of Meg spoke more to the time of being barefoot and pregnant, but with choice! And just like the film, the character of Amy is simply distasteful. She would serve better on Bravo reality tv! I think Murphy’s portrayal was an audition for Little Red in Into the Woods.
Let us not forget the men in the story. The supporting characters in their lives and in this production, on stage. Will Stephan Connell (Laurie Lawrence) and Max Meyers (John Brooke) brought a swoon-like quality to both roles. You couldn’t help but be engulfed in Connell’s puppy dog eyes throughout his romantic journey. And the vocal chops on these lads is nearly unmatched in town. If The Eagle is ever fortunate enough to produce Jersey Boys, they would have zero casting struggles. Don Green portrays Mr. Laurence and Tim Rinehart plays Professor Bhaer. The writing in the scenes of Jo and Bhaer are really unmatched and sadly, there wasn’t enough to be had. Book by Alan Khee and Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein offered several comedic entities, to which I had hope for just a bit more. It is clear that Suskind, Connell, and Bhaer have a knack for comedy in some of their brief moments together.
Ted Wioncek III proves he is a master in story-telling. Philadelphia offers many enriching theatres, but The Eagle Theatre truly is in a class by itself. Hence why it’s worth the ride to Hammonton.
Little Women: The Musical runs until February 25th.
For tickets: http://www.eagletheatre.org/ or 609-704-5012.