American University’s recent production of “Little Women,” based on Louisa May Alcott’s famous American novel, was a successful performance due to its quality acting, high production values, and musical highlights throughout. Of particular note was the portrayal of Jo March, played by Julia Messer. Messer’s portrayal of Jo was effective due to her ability to convey both confidence and stubbornness. Furthermore, her singing ability was featured prominently throughout the performance, and her voice was steady while also retaining emotional intensity.
Messer’s performance as Jo March was bolstered by her interactions with the entire cast, all of whom convincingly portrayed each character as a complex individual. For example, the portrayal of Beth by Christine Miyashiro showed someone who was constantly trying to minimize conflict between the sisters, while remaining sympathetic to each side; Amy, played by Audra Gale, comes across as both egotistical and vulnerable; and Meg, played by Emily Smith, is both idealistic and naive. Each of the sisters, whose interactions form the majority of the plot, work well off each other. The dialogue is snappy, and the audience believes the relationships between them. Each of the portrayals are convincing, both in regard to individual character as well as the interactions they have between them.
The stage design, lighting and sets were all presented well. The stage was structured in a way as to highlight the domesticity and simplicity of the March family, with just the right amount of detail to convey the mood and tone of a 19th century household without distracting from the performances. The sets were minimal enough to be easily changed to show the boarding house in New York, and even converted to show a coastline and beach during the Cape Cod scene, while remaining believable to the audience. Additionally, the lighting was bright when it needed to be, particularly during the musical numbers, but also subdued when the scene called for a quieter mood. Perhaps the most effective use of lighting was in the use of color: the general color changed from blue, to purple, and into vibrant red and orange in order to signify different times of day and different settings.
Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of this particular production of Little Women were the musical numbers throughout. One particular standout was Hannah Wellons’ solo as Marmee, whose voice is able to convey a sense of longing and sadness, while also reminding the audience that she needs to stay strong for the March girls. Other notable songs include ensemble pieces, including songs performed by all of the sisters on stage. The songs are accompanied with an orchestra of horns, strings, and a piano melody at times. All of the compositions work well the overall mood of each scene, and they consistently complement the voices of the performers without taking any attention away from the vocal performance.
Overall, the performance was professional and entertaining throughout. Each of the different elements, including the acting, set design, costumes and musical numbers worked seamlessly together. Based on the quality of the performance, it is clear that director Karl Kippola had a clear vision on how to bring this particular story to life. By the time the play ended, which was shortly after two and a half hours, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story of the March sisters, despite already having familiarity with the novel. The director, the stage crew, the orchestra and all of the cast members worked in harmony to deliver a truly memorable performance, as the play was able to showcase the talents of each individual involved in making the play come to life.