Birmingham Area Theatre Alliance
Working together to promote theatre in the Magic City
Little Women: The Broadway Musical
Directed by Cliff Keen, Jr.
July 15-31. 2011 at the Leeds Theatre and Arts Council
Reviewed by Ron Bryant
Little Women (based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott) has had many incarnations on the stage both as a straight play and a musical. This is the version with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein which appeared on Broadway in 2005. The show was not a long running play on Broadway but it does have a really nice musical score and offered many new “audition” songs for females and wonderful duets.
The show now appearing at the Leeds Arts Council has assembled a truly nice cast with very strong voices. The cast is headed by Susan Cook who has become a very familiar face on Birmingham stages in recent years. She provides a very solid performance in her role as the feisty Jo March and does a wonderful job with the song “Astonishing”, one of the signature songs of the show and the climax of the first act.
All of the sisters are good performers with a list of local productions to their credit, no novices in this show. Rachel Van Nortwick does a great job as Meg and has a very nice duet with her boyfriend/husband John Brooke played by Barry Perkins. Sarah Guthrie plays the society-minded Amy and Christy Vest does a good job with the role of Beth.
The mother Marmie is handled admirably by Sheryl Tucker who does a nice job with a couple of songs as well. The energetic Laurie is played by Sam Torres who has a very strong voice though I might say it is obvious a couple of the songs are probably at the top of his range and a bit of a strain. Michael Wilson does a nice job and the reserved Professor Bhaer, Jo’s eventual love interest.
The cast is well complimented by a couple of stage veterans in Suellen Wilkins and Michael Bridges who play Aunt March and Mr. Laurence respectively. Both provide some wonderful moments in the play both comic and tender.
No need to give a summary of this well-known tale but it may be worth mentioning that this version of the story uses the “flashback” technique of going between future and past events a time or two and that becomes a bit awkward and not always clear I am afraid, most likely due to some stage limitations. With a small stage with limited wing space this production chose to use a fixed set for many scenes and that made the transitions from time to time less clear. Some other technical issues are also distracting. Apparently without the ability to light segments of the stage independently, there were times that the backstage crew came on stage to bring and remove set pieces with the lights up and the action proceeding. Probably not much could have been done differently but it was distracting.
The sound was very nice but of course it is a rather small house so sound was not as much of an issue. I might note that compared to previous shows I have seen at Leeds they chose to put the orchestra onstage which at first I was not sure I would like. But it did provide a better balance for sound. You could always hear the voices well over the orchestra.
Most limitations of the show were just limitations of the venue and of course all venues have their limits. With a fixed set on a small stage, choreography was a bit cramped, but this show does not have broad choreography like some shows anyway.
Overall it was a nice theatre experience and worth the price of admission (top ticket price is $15). This is a nice change to see a new show in the Birmingham area where you often see many of the same shows repeated. It is not a large, lavish production but it is well worth your time.
The Music Man
Directed by Kristen Sharp
July 21-31, 2011 at the Arts Council of Trussville (ACTA)
Reviewed by Ron Bryant
The Music Man is one of those long beloved shows of stage and screen. It would have to be one of the 5-10 most frequently produced plays of all times. There is, of course, a reason for some shows being produced so often. The show is naturally fun to watch and has one of the most familiar musical scores of all Broadway musicals. On top of that it is suitable for a family audience which is something you can seldom say about many modern Broadway shows.
So what about the production currently running at ACTA in Trussville? Well it is similar in some ways to many community theatre productions that require large casts, the talent is a bit uneven. Some could be in professional productions; some probably belong in school productions.
Jennifer Lewis is wonderful as Marian. She has a great voice and wonderful stage presence. She does a great job with her role and you can always tell she is in the moment.
The same can be said for Howard Green. He is as good in the part of the Mayor of River City as anyone I have ever seen do the part. He has developed a strong character and he is consistent throughout the show.
In the title role of the Music Man, Harold Hill ACTA has found a “new” star. According to his bio in the program, Lance Pate is returning to the stage for the first time in 20 years. He does a good job with the voice, both acting and singing. Harold Hill is a very demanding role, one in which you are seldom off stage. Lance delivers vocally, but at times does not deliver quite the energy or body language audiences might expect in this role. This of course is one of the hazards of doing a show that is so well known. People will have expectations.
At times however even some of the other principal characters were not exactly stellar in their performances and at times some of the younger ensemble cast members did not stay “in the moment” in some of the group numbers. As I am sure the director told them many times, you never know when someone in the audience will be looking at you and you need to constantly stay focused and in character.
Scott Thorne, Michael Lunsford, Alan Easdon, and J.D. Blackmon do a great job with the vocals as the squabbling school board members. In fact one strong point of note is that the full cast vocal numbers are very good and one reason is that, unlike many community theatre productions, the male vocals more than hold their own.
But not all group numbers are perfect. Many of the classic rhythmic numbers like the opening scene on the train lack the rhythmic punch you might be used to seeing.
I do give major kudos to director Kristen Sharp for doing a wonderful job staging what is a “big” show on a pretty small stage. The set was well conceived and designed and the set changes were handled in reasonable time. As for other technical aspects, about the only problem was at times when the orchestra played behind dialog it was at times a bit hard to understand the dialog. But I am not being critical of the orchestra. I thought they did a great job of keeping the volume reasonable which is a very difficult thing to do.
Overall this was a very good production, probably the best thing I have seen at ACTA since Noises Off . It will run next week as well and it is worth your time and money. I should say as well that ACTA has the best ticket prices in town.