Review By Tatum Stafford
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a timeless piece of literature, and this week, Perth audiences have been treated to a musical rendition of her iconic tale about the four March sisters.
The musical made its debut on Broadway in 2005, and features a score of beautiful songs sung by the beloved sisters and other characters that weave in and out of their lives. And the cast of Old Mill’s Little Women deliver these songs in the same manner, absolutely beautifully.
Matilda Jenkins’ Jo March is incredibly powerful; she is unrelenting as she progresses from each scene to song before she reaches a moment of contentment in the show’s final moments. As none of the performers were mic’d, I especially appreciated Matilda’s projection and ability to deliver her dialogue and lyrics with clarity and plenty of charm. She led the show with plenty of poise, grace and determination.
In Act One, Jo’s sisters are played by Grace Johnson (Meg), Kate Sisley (Beth) and Cadence Smythe (Young Amy March). It’s clear the foursome have a strong bond and play off of each other beautifully, from the very first scene they share. Each have their moments to shine as the story progresses, and personal highlights include Grace’s gorgeous voice in her duet with Mr Brooke, “More Than I Am”, Cadence’s spirited and playful personality, particularly in traditionally antagonistic moments like the burning of Jo’s book, and Kate’s pure and lilting vocals in her first solo, “Off to Massachusetts”, which she stunningly delivers with the sweetness Beth is so renowned for throughout the show.
Penelope Colgan plays Marmee March, the sisters’ mother, and does so with ease, grace and clear warmth and affection for her own ‘little women’. Jenny Trestrall and Rosalyn Anderson deliver dynamic turns as Mrs Kirk and Aunt March, respectively, and Georgia McGivern’s Older Amy March in Act Two brought oodles of gusto and hilarity. Her grand entrance and committed characterisation was a breath of fresh air – it seemed the actors were having as much fun around her character as the audience were.
Every rendition of Little Women needs its men, and the male performers in this production were suave and memorable. Tate Bennett’s Laurie Laurence never failed to entertain, and he injected plenty of exuberance into any scene he entered. His solo in Act One, “Take a Chance on Me”, brought the house down and displayed his impressive vocals and comedic chops. Joshua “Lux” Towns’ portrayal of Meg’s future husband, Mr John Brooke, was tender and gracious – the perfect foil to Grace’s sincere and kind-hearted Meg. Craig Menner was suitably commanding yet soft-hearted as Mr Laurence, and Kieren Marley struck a nice balance between awkward and lovable as Professor Bhaer. I really liked Kieren’s solo in Act Two, “How I Am”, as it provided plenty of insight into his characters’ reservedness and stoic demeanour.
The set for this show, designed and constructed by George Boyd, was incredibly impressive and enabled the performers to potter and move about with plenty of purpose. Neroli Sweetman’s direction further emphasised this, and there was a great deal of variety in focal points during scenes and musical numbers. The use of the transparent scrim curtain helped separate Jo’s stories from her real-life sisters (who morphed into characters in her ‘blood and guts’ stories at the opening of each act). Jenny Trestrall’s props in these sequences were fantastic.
Musical direction from Katherine and Justin Friend was sublime, as each performer navigated musical numbers with ease and very minimal hesitation, which is quite impressive given the show utilised a pre-recorded backing track. Matt Manning’s choreography was a joy to watch (particularly in the group number “Five Forever”), and costumes by Michelle Sharp, Melissa Kelly and Barbara Lovell were brilliant. It was quite amazing to see each lead character in so many different costumes as the story progressed, and I really appreciated the effort and clear intention that went into each individual character’s dress sense and physical appearance.
This was a really joyful and uplifting night at the theatre, and by the looks of ticket sales, it will be very difficult (if not impossible) to snap up a ticket. There’s a reason why – this company is top tier, and should be very proud of this beautiful show they’re bringing to local theatregoers this festive season.