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Theatre Review (Glendale): Little Women by Knee, Howland, and Dickstein at the Alex Theatre

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Musical Theatre Guild, the super-talented group of professional musical comedy performers, put on their latest presentation of the musicalization of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The musical has a book by Alan Knee with music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The director was Kirsten Chandler. I saw the February 13 performance in Glendale; it was performed again in Thousand Oaks on February 19.

Little Women opened at the Virginia Theatre in 2005. The reaction was decidedly mixed but many critics liked what they heard. It went on to earn four Drama Desk Awards and a Tony nomination for Sutton Foster who played Jo. The show played 55 previews and 137 performances, which was enough to launch a 30-city national tour. I saw the show on tour and found it only fitfully enjoyable despite the presence of Maureen McGovern in the role she created on Broadway, the role of Marmee, the mother of the four March sisters. It seemed slow and, well, dated (the original was written in 1869) and I didn’t find the music very compelling.

The current presentation was more of a staged concert (very well staged I might add), book in hand, with only 25 hours of rehearsal, a remarkable feat and a tribute to all involved. The cast consisted of the always-dependable Eileen Barnett as Marmee, the mother, Melissa Lyons Calderetti as Beth, Melissa Fahn as Amy, Jennifer Melenke as Meg, and guest artist Alyssa M. Simmons as the lead character, Jo. These women sang well and managed to find as much humor in the material as possible. Ms. Simmons went way over the top but she was very funny and gave life to a rather lifeless musical.

The men in the show were Christopher Carothers as the Professor, Will Collyer as a delightful Laurie, Gordon Goodman as a stodgy next door neighbor, and Roger Befeler as John Brooke. Carol Kline rounded out the cast with a riotous portrayal of Aunt March.

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