Just as the Civil War plunged our nation into a heart of darkness and uncertainty, the present day challenges the human spirit. Then as now, people have always found a way through their deepest valleys. In 1869, a few years after that war, novelist Louisa May Alcott wrote a semi-autobiographical — and feminist-themed — novel about the March family of Concord, Massachusetts, and in 2005 lyricist Mindi Dickstein, musician Jason Howland, and musical book writer Allan Knee created Little Women: the Broadway Musical, which was magically produced into an evening of delightful entertainment by the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.
Directors Alvin Mayes and Scot Reese harnessed the talents of outstanding players such as Jordan Embrack (who played Margaret “Marmee” March), Anton Van De Motter (Laurie Laurence), and Leilani Clendenin (Jo March) to bring forth an emotionally upbeat musical to the audience. The directors also brought topical subtext to the show with non-traditional casting of some of the actors. Marci Shegogue, musical director, and Matré Grant, associate musical director, gave the show the musical backbone on which the actors’ singing performances grew.
The show followed the adventures and misadventures of one Jo March, who wanted to write and publish stories with “violence and seduction on every page!” Played with panache by Clendenin, Jo would get her sisters to act out her stories in the March family living room.
Embrack excellently played matriarch Marmee March, waiting for the return of her Union Army Chaplain husband, with a loving authority. Carolina Tomasi’s Meg March was ready to travel the traditional path of marriage and love. The fantastic Amelia Yasuda made Beth March a voice of reason, and the talented Karenna Foley brought the necessary brattiness to little sister Amy March, who hated Jo’s stories enough to burn one of them.
To that mix was added the relative Aunt March, portrayed with sternness by Allyson Sweiderk; suitors to the March women were Laurie Laurence (the comical and curly-haired Van De Motter), Mr. Brooke (Marcus Campbell), and Professor Bhaer (the wonderful Jake Schwartz). Evan Thanicatt (Mr. Laurence) and Katie Rees (Mrs. Kirk) completed the cast.
The word dazzling comes to mind when I think of the musical numbers. “Our Finest Dreams” was sung with a hint of Christmas cheer by Yesuda, Clendenin, Foley, and Tomasi.
I enjoyed the lovelorness of Embrack’s “Here Alone.” My foot tapped rhythmically to “Delighted” sung by Embrack, Yasuda, Clendenin, and Tomasi.
Not to be confused with a song by 70s pop group ABBA, the uptempo number “Take a Chance on Me” was brought to life by Van De Motter. “Off to Massachusetts” featured the delightful dueting of Yasuda and Thanicatt.
The title of the musical number “Astonishing” contains the adjective I need to describe it, as it was gorgeously sung in a heartfelt solo by Clendenin to close out the first act.
The company gloriously opened the second act with “The Weekly Volcano Press.” Schwartz brought strong vocals to “How I Am.” I could feel the love in “The Most Amazing Thing” by lovebirds Laurie and Amy with vocals by Foley and Van De Motter.
One of the finer solos was Clendenin’s “The Fire Within Me,” which displayed a feminist determination to succeed; and I was moved by her and Schwartz’s duet, “Small Umbrella in the Rain.”
Costume Designer Ashlynne Ludwig more than earned her keep with the Union Army uniform she put Campbell in, and the ball gowns she put Clendenin and Yasuda in. I loved how Lighting Designer Michael Winston spotlighted actors such as Embrack as they sang their solos, and Sound Designer Sam Crawford worked magic with the ocean sounds of the beaches of Cape Cod.
Relying on scrims and flown set pieces, Scenic Designer Sarah Beth Hall’s scenic design evoked the Civil War era through oversized wallpaper patterns and a large floral-patterned upstage set piece. Wooden beams — both arched and straight — suggested the March house’s structure. Of the props, I liked the old cast-iron stove, which sat near center stage, and Jo’s upstage-left stand-up writing desk, complete with quill pen.
With young stars like Van De Motter, Embrack, and Tomasi and direction by Mayes and Reese, this show will leave audiences smiling and — at least for two hours and 30 minutes — make audiences forget the turmoil of these days.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Little Women: the Broadway Musical plays from October 28 through 31, 2021, in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Kay Theatre at the University of Maryland, 8270 Alumni Dr, College Park, MD 20742. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.
The Clarice COVID health and safety policy is here.
Little Women: the Broadway Musical
Book by Allan Knee
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Music by Jason Howland
Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directors: Alvin Mayes and Scot Reese
Musical Director: Marci Shegogue
Scenic Designer: Sarah Beth Hall
Costume Designer: Ashlynne Ludwig
Lighting Designer: Michael Winston
Sound Designer: Sam Crawford
Stage Manager: Keta Newborn
Fight Captain: Kiefer Cure
Mr. Brooke: Marcus Campbell
Jo March: Leilani Clendenin
Marmee March: Jordan Embrack
Amy March: Karenna Foley
Mrs. Kirk: Katie Rees
Professor Bhaer: Jake Schwartz
Aunt March: Allyson Sweiderk
Mr. Laurence: Evan Thanicatt
Meg March: Carolina Tomasi
Laurie Laurence: Anton Van De Motter
Beth March: Amelia Yasuda
Aunt March, Mrs. Kirk: Taryn Carone
Mr. Laurence: Kiefer Cure
Professor Bhaer: Robert Duncan
Marmee March: Kayleigh Gallagher
Mr. Brooke: Sam Intrater
Amy March: Grace Guzman
Beth March: Annabel Lee
Jo March: Katie Rees
Laurie Laurence: Davis Stack
Meg March: Allyson Sweiderk
ASSISTANT DIRECTORS, DESIGNERS, AND STAGE MANAGERS
Assistant Directors: Virginia Coldren and Abigail Landesman
Associate Musical Director: Matré Grant
Assistant Costume Designers: Layali Aljirafi, Fionna Clark, Cody Von Ruden
Associate Lighting Designer: Eric Pitney
Assistant Lighting Designer: Jisu Han, Christina Smith
Assistant Stage Managers: Matt Haggerty, Jillian Harvey
Drapers: Lisa Parkel Burgess, Susan Chiang, Tessa Lew, Steven Simon
First Hand: Amy Vander Staay
Wardrobe Crew Head: Macaley Fields
Graduate Assistants: Clare Lillig, Connor Locke
Stitchers: Katy Cawley, Leilani Clendenin, Ariella Cohn, Robbi Duncan, Jade Hull, Annabel Lee, Mel Mader, Nicholas McQuain, Lisa Myerovich, Nicole Panebianco, Katie Rees, Celia Richardson, Tien Tran, Amelia Yasuda
Technology Graduate Assistants: Christian Henrriquez, Christina Smith
Lighting Supervisors: Malory Hartman, Cassaundra Saulski, Cameron Smith
Electricians: Samuel Biuk, Matt Brehm, Grant Hill, Jonah Pereyra, Zachary Rupp, Miguel Sarmiento, Erin Taylor, Lelia Vetter, Hanna Zakharenko
Production Technology Student Crew: Max Abramovitz, Taryn Carone, Alie Karambash, Elizabeth Raney, Evan Thanicatt
Scenic Artists: Andrea Ball, Kristin Brain-Tanman, Bobbie Carter Dewhurst, Sarah Beth Hall, James Raymond, Stephanie Warrington
Student Scenic Painters: Isabella Benning, Josie Danckaert, Nicole Panebianco, Kira Peck, Jalen Wilhite
Dressers: Viola Costen, Nicholas Lee McQuain, Kiana Malak Motiei, Mirsa Oporta Hernandez
Light Board Operator: Tien Tran
Audio Engineer: Emily Pan
Audio Technician: Madeline Redding
Follow Spots: Nelson Chen, Alana Isaac
Run Crew: Jade Hull, Logan Stevens