Review

Quintessence puts on a rousing revival of 'Little Women'

by Hugh Hunter
Posted 12/8/21

Just in time for the holidays, Quintessence Theatre reopened with a rousing revival of "Little Women The Broadway Musical" (2004). For over two hours, this high-energy show never lets you rest. 

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Review

Quintessence puts on a rousing revival of 'Little Women'

Posted

Just in time for the holidays, Quintessence Theatre reopened with a rousing revival of "Little Women The Broadway Musical" (2004) with a book by Allan Knee, based on the semi-autobiographical novel of Louisa May Alcott. For over two hours, this high-energy show never lets you rest. 

In its 20 plus songs, the lyrics of Mindi Dickstein stay true to the characters without getting bogged down in pretentious language or excessive rhyme.  Thus, the music of Jason Howland has room to breathe and players are invited to act out their songs. The score is still another example of the seminal influence the late Steven Sondheim had on Broadway..

Marielle Issa, a New York City based actor and graduate of Northwestern University shines in the key role of Jo. Her signature song "The Fire Within Me" lays bare Jo's struggle to mature as a woman and a writer. Without hamming it up, Issa honors the many moods of rebellious Jo.

The authenticity of Issa's Jo is so pervasive it seems to spill over into other characters. Cara Dipietro (Amy), Paola Morales (Beth) and  Caitlin Ort (Meg) play Jo's sisters. They are all distinctive stage presences.  

Kudos to Eleni Delopoulos; the three-time Barrymore nominee keeps you laughing all night as the cantankerous Aunt March. Veteran actor Frank X is equally notable as cranky Mr. Laurence, at first a comic presence, then dignified and ceremonially serious. 

Completing the cast are Donnie Hammond (Marmee), Jordan Dobson (Laurie), Lee Thomas Cortopassi (Mr. Brooke) and Jered Mclenigan (Professor Bhaer). Everyone picks up on the score's invitation to act out their songs. Two good examples were Hammond's rendition of "Here Alone" and Mclenigan's moving sense of isolation in "How I Am". 

There have been numerous film and theater versions of "Little Women" over the years with a necessary focus on the big dramatic moments that play on stage.  But staged translations of Alcott's novel stumble when it comes to the untimely death of young Beth. 

Alcott's own young sister died from scarlet fever. It devastated her family, and Alcott turns the painful event into a compelling story.  But theater cannot reproduce the novel's nuanced detail. On stage, the death of Beth feels like the worn, romantic trope of the sensitive, too-good-for-this-world young person. 

It is a problem here, too, but the surrounding production under Director Hassan Al Rawas overwhelms the melodrama. His choreography (Devon Sinclair/Adrienne Maitland) and costume design (Jane Casanave) is inventive --- especially when Jo stages her "blood and guts" opera story. And the five piece band under Conductor Tom Fosnocht, with orchestration by Spicer Carr, is so dynamically present that, at times, it feels like a Greek Chorus.

Quintessence theater itself becomes a player. Its cozy ambiance is perfect for the many domestic scenes. In the end, you truly believe the sisters deeply love one another --- the perfect gift to put under your Xmas tree. 

Quintessence is located at 7137 Germantown Ave.  "Little Women The Broadway Musical" will run through Jan 2. Tickets available at 215-987-4450 or quintessencetheatre.org

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