“Little Women,” the Broadway musical now on stage at the May River Theatre, will charm, entertain, even edify.
The entire production at the highly regarded community-based Bluffton theater is simply first rate. You must plan to book your tickets for this brilliant dramatic and musical event, which is absolutely appropriate for the entire family.
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s iconic, kind-of-autobiographical novel of 1869, “Little Women,” the musical is directed by Michelle McElroy, with musical direction by Beth Corry, along with the choreography of Jamal Edwards — and it is simply outstanding. Further, the performers — actors, musicians and dancers — are spot-on, too.
What an enormously professional spin these talented, dedicated community theater performers bring to our local theater. How fortunate we are.
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The opening night audience came early to the Ulmer Theater in Bluffton, looking forward to enjoying the performance, greeting friends and taking in the excitement of an opening night. Several carried bunches of flowers for the cast. There was a notable buzz of excitement just before the curtain.
The overture captured our attention, then set our mood for the highly anticipated musical production, with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, which was to follow.
You remember the familiar kind of coming-of-age story: Jo Marsh (Jean White), a spirited tomboy and a determined young woman, plans to become a writer. We are offered glimpses of her earlier efforts and some disappointing outcomes by way of a scene from an earlier work and some serious rejections. She, nevertheless, is bent on continuing on. There’s a reference to her opera, “An Operatic Tragedy,” and flashes of her writing of this fantasy piece and the characters she has created, which provide a kind of mysterious backstory reminder along with some fascinating individuals from her earlier compelling writing focus.
Jo lives with her mother, the very wise and gracious Marmee Marsh (Sonya Jacobs), and sisters, Meg (Lauren Cleland), a charming young woman with a romantic outlook on life; the soft-hearted Beth (Shannon Hegarty); and Amy (Caylin Campis), who is socially aware, pretentious and a bit immature.
They all share in the challenges of living the best way they know how, facing hardships, joys and heartbreaks, while their father, a Union Army chaplain during the Civil War, is away. A kind of anxious personality to add to the harmonious family distaff side is offered by Aunt Marsh (Susan Romero), whose perspective and approach to life seems to confront and to keep the young women on edge.
The talented men who add dimension to this delightful musical are incredibly on target, too. Each is convincing in his role, and each carries with him a unique challenge and responsibility. Professor Bhaer (Steve Mason) brings wisdom and sensitivity, Laurie Laurence (Logan Naddy) is a delightful boy next door, John Brooke (Daniel Bittick) adds solidarity and warmth, Mr. Laurence (Steve McElroy) is Laurie’s sensitive grandfather. They all contribute impressively to the extended family setting at the beginning and further in the family’s resolution.
Ancillary, in a way, are a couple of scenes involving some familiar faces — and some new ones — as cast members take on fantasy roles in the “Operatic Tragedy.” Look for Hegarty as Clarissa, Campis as Rodrigo II, Naddy as Rodrigo, Bittick as Braxton, McIlroy as Knight, Talia Boudjemaa as Hag and Abby Jacobs as Troll.
The two acts are creatively and carefully sequenced to define the scenes, the music, the location and the very important time frames. The creative sets and incredible costumes further contribute to the production’s phenomenal outcomes.
The performances flow seamlessly, really, as the music so impressively supports the storyline. All of the cast members bring top quality voices to the show, as soloists and also when they join together in duets and quartets and choruses.
Look forward to the amazing vocal blend of the sisters in “Our Finest Dreams” and the touching and dramatic “Here Alone,” offered by the talented Jacobs. “Off to Massachuesetts” is perfectly lovely, with Beth and Mr. Laurence, and “Five Forever,” with Jo, Laurie, Meg, Beth and Amy, is right on the mark.
Be prepared for “The Weekly Volcano Press,” with the full cast, to start off act two. And the lovely vocal music just continues to stream from everyone. Listen for “How I Am,” from Professor Bhaer; “Some Things are Meant to Be,” with Beth and Jo; “The Fire Within Me” with Jo; and “Small Umbrella in the Rain,” with Jo and the professor.
The musical talent of the cast continues to impress, through the vocal work from the cast, supported by the reinforcement of the orchestra. Geoff Borgelt, piano; Jeff Corry bass; Amelie Ratliffe, violin; Brandon Thompson, reeds; and Dave Bricker, percussion, saw to the backing of the cast and the establishing of the time and place.
Now would be the perfect time for me to point out again that the May River Theatre is a volunteer and community enterprise. The outstanding work they do, the performances by the casts, the support crew, even the box office is graciously handled by volunteers. Board president Jennifer Green, who sees to the smooth running of the May River Theatre, welcomes and invites the interest and support of potential volunteers and donors.
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
- What: “Little Women,” the Broadway musical by the May River Theatre
- Where: Ulmer Auditorium in Bluffton Town Hall, 20 Bridge St.
- When: 8 p.m. July 28-29 and Aug. 4-5; 3 p.m. July 30 and Aug. 6
- Tickets: $27
- Details: www.mayrivertheatre.com, 843-815-5581