Little Women The Musical based on the book by Louisa May Alcott. Music by Jason Howland, book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The Park theatre, Finsbury Park, London. 2**. William Russell.

Lack a turkey for Christmas? Your search ends here with this pretty lamentable staging of the 2005 Broadway musical based on Louisa Alcott’s famous novel about the indomitable Marmee and her four daughters coping with a life of genteel poverty in Boston during the Civil War. Father, an army chaplain, is away at the from and life is hard but the sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy cope as best they can, do good works and make friends with the boy next door. The book is splendid and has been filmed several times each one fitting the mood of the day from reverential classic in 1933 to the the more recent ones which see it as a feminist affair largely because Jo, the leading daughter, is a would be novelist struggling to find a career and writes melodramatic potboilers much as Alcott did under a pseudonym. It was when she eventually wrote Little Women based to some extent on her own family that she found fame and fortune leading to a collection of sequels which are nowhere near as good. Judging by You Tube the Broadway show which starred Sutton Foster as Jo was quite tuneful but that is far from the case here – it sounds like yet another screechy musical in which the leads seize their chances by hitting top notes centre stage at the audience and fail to put the lyrics over. Not that when they do come across are the lyrics by Mindi Dickstein memorable while Jason Howland’s tunes are only passable. Musicals demand two things – a ten o’clock song for the star which will seal the evening and something to end Act One with which will bring the audience back after the interval. They are not there.
The best thing about Bronagh Lagan’s production is the set, which manages cleverly to give us the attic in which Jo writes her books, as well as space for the rest of the action downstage. There is also a rather good band under Leo Munby delivering the score. The cast led by Lydia White as a spunky Jo is fine but one never gets any feeling that this is a family, Marmee looks younger than her daughters, and Aunt March is positively cuddly. It also goes on for a very long time. Part of the problem lies with Alcott because she steadfastly refused to have the obvious happy ending in which Jo marries Laurie, the lonely rich boy next door who becomes a surrogate brother and – forget feminism – marries her off to the boring older Professor Bhaer and run a school with him. It is all well enough drilled, the cast do what they do without falling over or forgetting their lines, some can even sing, the costumes are a hodgepodge of styles but the charm and warmth of Alcott’s novel is missing from the book devised by Alan Knee. One does not care what happens to any of them whereas in Alcott one is emotionally involved from the start. The show got its European premier in 2017 at the Hope Mill also directed by Langan but this is a fresh attempt to put it on stage. If this latest outing sends people back to the book that at least will be something.

Professor Bhaer: Rtan Bennett.
Meg: Hana Ichijo.
Laurie: Sev Keoshgerian.
Beth: Anastasia Martin.
Amy: Mary Moore.
Aunt March/Mrs Kirk: Bernadine Pritchett.
Mr Laurence: Brian Protheroe.
John Brooke: Lejaun Sheppard.
Marmee: Savannah Stevenson.
Jo: Lydia White.

Director: Bronagh Lagan.
Musical Director: Leo Munby.
Set & Costumes: Nik Corrall.
Lighting Designer: Ben M Rogers.
Sound Designer: Paul Gavin.
Choreographer: Sarah Golding.
Dialect Coach: Manny Crooks.
Fight Director: Renny Krupinski.
Production Photographs: Tristram Kenton.

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