I had the pleasure of watching the New Jersey City University production of Little Women: The Broadway Musical. Sunday was a long day, and my eyesight is still recovering from fourteen-plus hours in contact lenses that are supposed to come out after eight. Please excuse typos.
For the two or three people (men) who have never read Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel or are unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick synopsis. Jo March, a young and hot-tempered resident of Concord, Massachusetts, aspires to be a writer in the 1860s. Her early attempts are full of love and blood and guts. Publishers reject her efforts over and over. At this point I have to say that she is an exemplar (Barbara Sicherman’s word) for Ann Petry, Patti Smith, and Simone de Beauvoir. They didn’t do blood and guts and romance, but they did identify with the rejection and “odd duck” feelings that Alcott communicates so well. I felt as I watched that my mother was there, too, and that she approved.
Jo, her three sisters, and their mother struggle without their father, who has gone off to serve as a chaplain for the Union Army. Based on Alcott’s own life, Little Women features a threatening old man next door, his ne’er-do-well grandson, and the girls’ wealthy and judgmental aunt. Though there is real suffering (one of the sisters dies), Jo wins her success, and everything generally ends “happily ever after.”
The musical, which features rousing choruses and plaintive ballads, follows the novel with the ingenious addition of one of Jo’s early works, “An Operatic Tragedy.” As Jo sings the words of her “tragedy,” others act them out in full princess, villain, and hero garb. Clarissa, the heroine, is played magnificently by my friend Gabrielle Spotz, who has to perform the duet with Jo and echo Jo’s movements. It’s all very silent-movie melodrama style action with expert classical dance and operatic musical execution.
The entire cast performed magnificently. Jenna Ravenda (Jo) has a star-worthy voice and a comedic timing that should serve her well if she chooses to tread the boards across the Hudson.
Other standouts included Catriona Rubenis-Stevens as the officious Aunt March and Ashley Elrod performing affectingly as Marmee. Her solo “Days of Plenty” in Act II reduced even the tough guys in the audience to tears.
I am thrilled to have been part of this experience and wish everyone spectacular success for the remainder of the run.