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By Constance Scrafield
Not only did the Opening Night audience leap to its collective feet at the finale of Little Women, but as individuals, they also glowed in the emotional aftermath at the reception following the production. Little Women is playing at the Opera House from now until December 22.
There is always a reception after the Opening Night show, a chance to drink a glass of wine, enjoy the munchies provided by a local, theatre loving winery and restaurant. Our job, beside attending the show, is to imbibe at the reception and schmooze with the crowd, taking the temperature of how well these discerning theatre goers liked the show.
They loved it. Some were positively effervescent with the charm and the emotions they felt during the telling of the four March sisters and their mother, their Marmee.
Basically, the story of Little Women is told at a time when four sisters: Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March are each coming into new moments in their individual lives, during which time their country is in the grips of civil war and their father is ministering to the soldiers far away.
The script, written by Nancy Early, for the world premiere of the show at Theatre Orangeville in 2001, has taken some literary license in putting a version of the Louisa May Alcott's original book on the stage, with a view to including the highlights of this very touching story.
As Ms. Early told the Citizen in an earlier interview, “This is a year of the girls' lives...” specifically from one Christmas to the next.
Each sister's life is about to change. Meg begins her life as an adult: played by the sweet faced Laura Larson, she is so perfect with Meg's longings and self doubts, which mostly dissolve when she accepts love.
Jo finally admits her own ambition by taking her creative life seriously. Emily Lukasik pounds the stage with a truly great understanding of Jo's rebellious nature – her desire to succeed in the way she understands is best. Her feet hit the ground with a thud when she realizes where her true talent lies. Fabulous.
Beth, quiet and shy, a musician and the anchor for her sisters in many ways, she puts the safety of an ailing baby before her own. Alex Ugolini, familiar to us by her role with Young Company, gives us a beautiful Beth, tremulous, yet wise. Fearless, she teaches her sisters about life by her own example. Miss Ugolini delivers it all.
Little Amy, at 12 years old, clearly understands what she wants from life. Robust and ready to take on the world, young Kiara-Lynn McKenna, full voiced and emphatic is just terrific. She did the “warm up” for this role, as one might say, by playing the part of Matilda this summer with Young Company.
Their mother- Marmee, Lorretta Bailey in the role, is steady in all the trials Marmee suffers, with the clash and cling of her daughters, their father's war time ills and wounds; Ms. Bailey sails through it with aplomb, exactly as she should to hold the ties together. A lovely, balanced performance.
Aunt Marsh, widow of their great uncle, heir to his fortune and mansion, is Mary Pitt's part in the show and one she has played before, so she told the Citizen. She is very comical but also terrifying to the extent a domineering, moneyed relative might be. Terrified, too, of being left alone, one or the other must give way and Ms. Pitt keeps us guessing almost to the end which will terror will win. Terrific.
So happy to see Stephen Sparks back to Theatre Orangeville with his consistently excellent presence on stage. And he sings, which he rarely does, here playing the part of Mr. Laurence, their wealthy neighbour, so stern and tough about his grown up (more or less) grandson, Laurie's future in the family business and, then, so tender with Beth and the piano.
During the reception, we asked Mr. Sparks what surprised him about the production and he answered, “How good everyone is. How well this production came together. I had to up my game when l realized how well everyone sang...”
That grandson, wanting to be a musician, not a businessman, wanting to be friends with the extraordinary March women, is aptly and energetically performed by Orangeville's own Colin Simmons. We knew he can sing, act, dance and play the piano. He is so much fun, as always, with a charming rapport with Jo – they're the play's best friends.
Good to welcome Jared Klein as Laurie's tutor, not much older than Laurie, John Brooke. Mr. Klein delivers a clean, funny, compassionate performance, stuck in the middle of conflict and love, as he is – waiting patiently for his heart's wish. A fine performance.
The gorgeous set is so clever and different, built of books; set out to accommodate every need of the story: the cozy room in the March house, the cool, formal settings in the Laurence home; the skating pond, the ball room -everything is there- you only have to see it for yourself – wonderful, by design of Beckie Morris and her production team. The costumes by Alex Amini are so perfect for the characters and the story.
Jennifer Lennon designing the lights made it all come alive, whether it was happy or sad. Together the creative and production team have made a work of art.
The songs, music and lyrics by Jim Betts, blend with every mood and moment of the play as it goes along. Very happy or quiet and reflective, everyone singing so beautifully, with their Music Director, John Hughes, at the helm and accompanying the entire evening.
It was a pleasure – there were tears – there were high moments and lots of laughs.
This is not a simple play. There is plenty quick time action and dialogue, not to mention how well Jenee Gowing choreographed the many songs with action and pause, to enhance them.
Like the conductor of a complicated symphony, Director David Nairn has brought the elements together into a fast flowing entertainment. He has said he just keeps out of the way but he was surely the defining lead this time around. Splendid, sir, splendid.
Little Women is playing at Theatre Orangeville until December 22. Tickets, as usual- at the Box Office, 87 Broadway or the Information Centre on Buena Vista and Highway 10, by telephone on 519-942-3423; online at www.theatreorangeville.ca
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