Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, is certainly a canonical classic that has endured the test of time. The story of Jo March is one that has resonated with so many young people who aspire to be more than what society believes they are able to do. She is a figure of intelligence, independence and strength that emphasises the significance of sticking to one’s intuition and the power of self-expression and storytelling. This narrative transfers well to the stage in a musical adaption that highlights Jo’s struggles and triumphs, alongside her more traditional sisters, so brilliantly.
OXAGEN’s production of Little Women, made very obvious attempts to stay true to the style and heart of the original novel. While laden with sure highlights, there were indeed some moments when this production lacked some of the spark and charisma that the narrative is so well renowned for, which proved somewhat disengaging. At times, the general feel of the experience was a little lacklustre, wanting for energy and stronger conviction. This is most definitely not to say that all individual performances were perceived that way. Quite the contrary. There were many individual efforts that proved intriguing and powerful, particularly Emily McKenzie’s Jo March and Gemma Digiglio’s Beth March. Individual performances most definitely lifted the overall perception of the production.
It would be remiss of me, however, not to mention the particularly striking and captivating scenes within which Jo’s narratives were played out behind her as she read with such animation, mirroring the actions of the characters. This was done almost flawlessly with the involvement of several of the cast. The direction in these scenes provided a very balanced concoction of humour and heart, and was a sure audience favourite.
Musical direction was generally well-received. The score of Little Women is exceptionally beautiful and the band certainly did it justice. Cast harmonies were mostly tight and blended well and were pleasant to listen to. Sometimes, the cast sounded a little vocally pushed and fatigued, though this could very well be put down to an intensive production week and it is anticipated that this would be remedied for the rest of their season.
Choreography was simple yet effective. This show does not call for grandiose dance numbers at all, so the quaintness was welcomed and the style was appropriate. The formations were very clever and proved visually pleasing.
The set was very simple, featuring three white door frames with some furniture set pieces that would dictate location and time. The three white frames proved very aesthetically appealing at the beginning and end of the performance with Jo’s three sisters standing in each, bookending the show very well however, throughout the production, they proved almost distracting against the more neutral tones of the additional props and set pieces, which were more appropriate for the era. The lighting design was also, on occasion, quite effective, but certainly lacked substance from time-to-time, limiting the emotional connectedness between the audiences’ perceptions and the narrative on stage. Again, the strength of some of the leading cast was able to compensate for this.
Emily McKenzie’s Jo March was well researched and exceptionally accurate. Her spunk and vigour were spot on and her vocals were very impressive. From start to finish, McKenzie was Jo March and it was such a joy to watch her command the stage. Particularly moving was McKenzie’s ability to develop Jo from girl to woman with such subtlety – as if the audience had been a part of Jo’s life as she grew, rather than simply watching her over two acts.
Gemma Digiglio as Beth March was a true breath of fresh air. Her sweet, innocent portrayal was beautiful and allowed for the development of a strong connection between audience and character, which made for a stronger reaction at the time of her death. Her interactions with McKenzie were beautiful, particularly during ‘Some Things Are Meant To Be’. Digiglio has an exceptionally sweet yet strong voice that was a real joy to listen to. I look forward to seeing her in future productions.
Matt Allen, Ben Stokes, Candice Piang-Nee and Alix Roberts did well in their supporting roles and developed their characters with obvious effort as the timeline progressed. This development was particularly evident in the contrast between young Amy March and grown Amy March. The way in which Laurie, played by Matt Allen, highlights the difference between young infatuations, as was his relationship with Jo March in his younger days and a true romantic love, as he shares with Amy after their time in Europe, was enjoyable to watch. In addition, it should be acknowledged that Allen’s vocals were particularly impressive, as was his energy on stage.
The ‘adult’ characters of the show were unfortunately rather inconsistent and sometimes quite stagnant and robotic. This was particularly evident when interacting with some of the stronger players such as McKenzie. While it is understandable that there need be a contrast in energy between the older characters and those who are intended to be spritely, this discrepancy was often too vast and came across as underprepared and lacking character substance.
Little Women provides a narrative fit for our time. Despite being set so very long ago, its themes are poignant. OXAGEN offers some exceptional individual performances that do well create a thought-provoking experience.