Playhouse's beautiful musical will hold you by your heart
12 hours ago
Impeccably cast and beautifully staged and sung, “Little Women, the Musical” had a Thursday preview audience — frontloaded with females — almost at hello.
Almost. The Omaha Community Playhouse production had a bit of a balky start. (I never did like the scene in which the March sisters act out Jo’s silly melodrama.) But gradually, almost stealthily, the story hooks you with its unabashedly sentimental tale.
That’s not a given. With so many from-the-heart ballads, this sweet souffle could turn gooey if not for strong character work that makes you care and sharp comedic timing that makes you laugh.
Whether it’s sisters, mothers and daughters, or daughters falling in love, “Little Women” is an old-fashioned family show about connections of the heart. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel and set in the 1860s, it’s a natural for grandmothers, mothers and daughters to see together.
Director Susan Baer Collins is blessed with talented singers, first to last, who know just what to do with a soaring melodic phrase, a clever patter song or a romantic duet that echoes back and forth.
The story centers on the four March sisters, coming of age while their father is away during the Civil War. Marmee (Camille Metoyer Moten), loving but firm, struggles to keep her daughters in line and the bills paid.
As headstrong dreamer Jo, who wants to be a writer, Sims Lamason carries the show with a combination of strong acting and vocal chops, wringing every emotional drop out of a big ballad like “Astonishing” or “The Fire Within Me.”
Moten is her equal. The show doesn’t really fly until she breaks your heart a little with “Here Alone,” a ballad sung to her absent husband. She’s just as affecting when she sings of grief to Jo in “Days of Plenty.”
Tim Abou-Nasr charms as the orphan boy next door, Laurie. He’s in fine voice as he asks Jo to “Take a Chance on Me” or seals his friendship with the sisters in an energetic ditty, “Five Forever.”
Personal favorites who make the most of small character roles: Bill Hutson as Laurie’s wealthy, imposing grandfather, Mr. Laurence, who turns out to be a softy; Deborah Curtis, who gives commanding Aunt March a heart of gold under all that starch; and Carly Schneider as kind-hearted Beth, as delightful (“Off to Massachusetts” with Hutson) as she is affecting (“Some Things Are Meant to Be”).
As Laurie’s tongue-tied tutor, William R. Pope joins Leanne Hill Carlson as Meg in a beautiful love duet. Chad Bradford brings humor and likability, plus a lovely tenor voice, to awkward Professor Bhaer, a mentor to Jo who is slow to realize he’s smitten. Jen Morris adds likability at last to pouty youngest sister Amy with “The Most Amazing Thing,” which she sings with Laurie.
Add expert music direction by Keith Hart, a bit of fancy stepping from choreographer Melanie Walters, a gorgeous seaside backdrop painted by Michelle Bonker and lovely period costumes by Denise Ervin, and this looks like a hit.
Word to the wise: All those ballads take time. With intermission, the show runs nearly three hours despite generally good pacing.
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