nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 26, 2005
I can't help it; I notice details.
Little Women's show curtain is a scrim decorated with pictures that are supposed to look like handwritten pages from the original manuscript from Louisa May Alcott's famous novel. I was close enough to actually read some of them—one seemed to be about John Brooke's proposal of marriage to Meg, who rebuffed her suitor gently, saying that she was too young to get engaged (I paraphrase, though the curtain, I am sure, does not).
Yet, when John Brooke proposes to Meg in Act One, Scene Five of this musical Little Women, she instantly says yes. Now, I'm not saying that book writer Allan Knee, composer Jason Howland, and lyricist Mindi Dickstein are required to be 100% faithful to their source material. But shouldn't somebody involved with this show, whose budget is said to be six million dollars, have noticed the disparity between what's on the curtain and what's on the stage?
Alas, I don't think anyone on the creative or business teams thinks audiences are paying much attention. If they did, they wouldn't let Maureen McGovern cross her legs when she sings her first act solo "Here Alone" (would any self-respecting Yankee woman in 1863 have done such a thing?). They wouldn't put their Jo, Sutton Foster, in an ugly pair of tweed trousers for much of the first half of the show (where, one wonders, did she get them?). They wouldn't have accepted Derek McLane's set design, which is an ugly raggedy wooden structure that's supposed to be a staircase and attic but which looks like the supporting beams of a dank old barn.
They wouldn't have distracted the audience from their star's one and only opportunity to earn a few laughs by upstaging her recitation of one of Jo's terrible early stories with a "fantasy staging" played out right behind her.
And they wouldn't have squandered the opportunity for a framing device that makes sense: they would have had Professor Bhaer, after Jo reads him this story, tell Jo to write about what she knows, thus offering a smooth segue into the reminiscence that the rest of the show appears to be.
At this point, you will probably not be surprised when I tell you that in this Little Women no one ever says "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents." Didn't somebody think we'd kind of look forward to hearing that?
I'm getting very bored with the indifferent mediocrities that pass for Broadway musicals much of the time these days. (I'll bet you are, too; and of having to read these strident reviews that such shows compel me to write.) Hardly an adaptation, this Little Women is a pureed mishmosh of plot elements and dialogue from the novel, indifferently parsed and indistinctly rendered. It lacks warmth, context, characterization, imagination, and, most damagingly, point of view. It's also cheaply produced (come on, a cast of ten?!?), insincerely played, and indefensibly directed (why is Laurie standing in the March girls' living room at the end of his big number at Annie Moffat's ball?).
The score lacks any sort of consistency in terms of period or style. Even game trouper McGovern can't make much out of what she's been given (and she's been given very little); would-be star Foster proves that she's not the budding super-diva some have believed her to be, fading into the woodwork and defeated by solos that are at once ardent and colorless.
I'll conclude by saying something that I've said before: if audiences allow producers to feed them junk food at banquet prices, producers will keep on doing so. Little Women is just about the worst thing that a Broadway show can be: it's dull. For $100, or even for half that if you got a discount, you deserve MUCH more. Vote with your pocketbook on this one, friends; eventually producers will get the message.