I don’t know about you, but for me one of the ongoing conundrums of going to the theater is when and where to eat dinner. Eat before the show, and you feel stressed about the timing and ensuring you get to the theater on time. Attempt to eat after, and you’re simply starving and many restaurants are no longer open anyway. The perfect solution does exist, however, and that is Summer Dinner Theatre at Montgomery College. On Friday night, I was able to treat myself to dinner — and a treat of a show — all in one place. The buffet was classic favorites like prime rib, chicken marsala, and mac and cheese, plus dessert and drinks. I’m burying the lead here, though, as the true “main course” of the evening is the musical Little Women, and it is irresistible.
The cast of Little Women is oozing with talent and includes an American Idol contestant (Evan Napier as Mr. Laurence) and a performer destined for Broadway (Allison Fitzgerald as Jo). With a book by Allen Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, this show ran on Broadway for 137 performances in 2005. Montgomery College’s Summer Dinner Theater’s run is sadly only for 5 shows, and it is not to be missed.
Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s iconic novel, and the multiple movie versions, will be pleased to see the classic brought to life in grand style on the stage. This show is truly a treasure, owing not only to the cast but to the direction and choreography by Ashleigh King and the music direction by Marci Shegogue and Elizabeth Joy Clark. Though set in the 1860s, the show features strong and invincible women like the fiery and irrepressible Jo and the rock-solid Marmee (played by Skye Knight). At its core, this show is about both finding oneself and the importance of family and sisterhood, and anyone with a heart will feel the pull of her heartstrings while watching the tale unfold.
The musical, just like the book, is a coming-of-age story that feels as though it’s as much about the big moments, both joyous and tragic, as the mundane ones. “Better,” a dreamy number that highlights the cozy yet powerful sorority of these four young women, leads right into “Our Finest Dreams,”, and just three songs into the musical the audience is drawn into the warm and inviting world of the March sisters. I certainly wanted to be a part of their family, just as Laurie does from the minute he meets them.
The musical has a fine balance between fun, exciting numbers and more quiet, slow ballads. In “Here Alone,” we are reminded that the Civil War is raging and Knight conveys the melancholy and touching experience of Marmee longing for her husband, who is away as a chaplain for the Union Army. We’re reminded here that questioning one’s parenting and feeling like a failure is a timeless pastime of parents.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amusing and comical “villains” of Little Women: Aunt March (played by Caroline Kinney) and Mr. Laurence (played by Evan Papier). Both are crotchety, demanding elders who deep down mean well and, at least in Mr. Laurence’s case, have a soft spot buried under the gruffness. In “Could You,” Kinney establishes Aunt March as a character we, and Jo, love to hate, and in “Off to Massachusetts,” a sweet ditty and precious duet, both Beth (played by Naomi Louie) and the audience discover Mr. Laurence can carry a lovely tune and might just be huggable underneath the frosty exterior.
In “Five Forever From Now On,” the performers, both the ones playing the four March sisters (Abby Altemose as Meg, Emily Ray as Amy, Louie as Beth, and Fitzgerald as Jo) and Terry Bartlebaugh playing Laurie, shined brightly. It is impossible not to want to be an honorary March sister, watching them as they anoint Laurie after he rescues Amy from an ice skating accident. The first act ends with another highlight of the performance: “Astonishing,” Jo’s solo number. Fitzgerald is astonishing herself; she belted out the notes and without question solidified herself in my mind as one to watch. I am confident we’ll be seeing her on Broadway in the near future.
The musical’s second act (after a 10-minute intermission) is slightly shorter and focuses on triumph and tragedy. Jo’s writing career is finally taking off (“The Weekly Volcano Press”), and she may even be falling in love with a fellow boarder at Mrs. Kirk’s Boarding House in New York City, Professor Bhaer, played with dignity and warmth by the dashing Jimmy Bartlebaugh. The triumph is interrupted by tragedy when Beth comes down with scarlet fever from which she will never fully recover. Things move fast in post–Civil War America and in the musical as well, and in the final numbers we learn of Laurie and Amy’s engagement and almost immediate wedding, Jo’s success as a novelist, and a surprise declaration of love. It’s a whirlwind that I was delighted to be a part of and would gladly see again. How lucky are we to have this treasure of a musical right here in Rockville, Maryland. If you have a young one ages 8 and up, they will love it as well. Little Women is not to be missed; it’s a treat you deserve!
Running Time: Two hours 25 minutes including a 10-minute intermission.
Little Women plays July 23, 29, 30, and 31, 2022, presented by Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre performing in the Theatre Arts Arena, Theatre Arts Building, Rockville Campus, 51 Mannakee Street, Rockville, MD. Tickets ($65 buffet and show, $25 show only) can be purchased online or by calling 240-567-5301 (box office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.).
COVID Safety: Vaccine cards will be checked at the door. All patrons must provide proof of vaccination OR a recent negative COVID test (within 72 hours of the show). Masks must be worn to enter the arena, approach the buffet, and during the show.
Scenic Design by Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden; Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin; Costume Design by Kristina Marie Martin; Sound Design by Matthew Datcher; Properties Design by R. Scott Hengen; Master Carpentry by Roger Bridges; Costume Assistance by Rhiley Sowers; Graphic Design by Katherine Hubley; Scenic Art by Rooster Skylar Sultan; Carpentry by Lauren Evans; Arts Management Assistance by Juliana Quirino Norman.