The 2005 production of Little Women is the latest attempt to musicalize Louisa May Alcott’s classic, following a 1958 television version and a 1998 opera. In order to insert about 18 numbers (and a handful of reprises) into the story, Alan Knee’s book streamlines the plot and provides quick sketches of the characters. That’s not a problem, as most audiences are familiar enough with this 150-year-old classic to follow along.
However, many of Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein’s songs, while giving the performers a chance to show off their vocal skills, are rather generic and become repetitive. That said, the numbers that open each act, An Operatic Tragedy and The Weekly Volcanic Press, are rambunctious fun, and there’s poignancy to be found in such ballads as Take a Chance On Me, Some Things Are Meant to Be and Days Of Plenty.
Definitely working in this production’s favor is the Public’s splendid staging. Jeremy Whittington’s minimal, modular set is highly effective and well-lit by Dan “Doc” Heggem. Sara Brookes’ costumes are period-perfect, and Courtnie Mercer supplies some nice choreography. The six-piece orchestra, conducted by Jane Haas, sounds at least twice that size. And director Andy Meyers smartly puts an emphasis on the frequent comedic one-liners, which kept the audience chuckling appreciatively on opening night.
The cast is also engaging. Megan DeYoung is a compassionate Marmie, and John Towry is good as Mr. Laurence, the neighbor whose cold heart is eventually warmed by the March family. Lindsey Van de Kirk is an amusingly starchy Aunt March, and Nicole Erwin provides humor as Mrs. Kirk. Grant Bryan is also fine as John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, who falls for Meg.
Campbell Wilford, Rosa Gardner, and Katherine Leidlein perfectly inhabit the characters of Beth, Amy, and Meg, but this is Jo’s show, and Chloe Vorels makes the most of it with a vibrant performance. She is well-supported by Brendan Brady as Laurie, the neighbor who becomes an honorary member of the family, and Robby Vance as the modest Professor Bhaer, who hides his growing affection for Jo with dueling ripostes.
This production will certainly satisfy those who love both the novel and excellent stagecraft. Little Women plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through Feb. 18 at the Public Theater of San Antonio, 800 West Ashby Place. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (210) 733-7258.