Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is not a book I’ve read, though for some it was compulsory classic literature, force-fed by sage school-mistresses or old maiden aunts. Neither am I overly familiar with the compositional work of Steven Luke Walker. However, the lure of a cast brimming with West End credits and the interesting prospect of hearing a new musical in the making proved more than ample temptation to venture into town. There have been two previous musical adaptations of the story with varying degrees of critical success so this would clearly not be an easy nut to crack.
Set around 1876 in New England during the American Civil War, the plot centres around the growth of four sisters Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth, into young women. Their lives and loves, happiness and heartaches provide a wealthy source for the lyricist and composer to pen a total of twenty two contemporary songs over two acts. The trick though has been to introduce a sympathetically modern musical style to the Victorian tale, while retaining the nostalgic yesteryear appeal of period drama. This is Walker’s stated objective and he has achieved it charmingly.
From the very beginning, an opening Christmas carol ensemble piece, I was won over. Of course, these are still comparatively early days and the varied score is not perfect but it is hugely enjoyable and was generally well received by an enthusiastic audience. The first act is perhaps a little long but includes some beautiful songs including a stunning duet ‘Sometimes’ sung by Sarah Lark and Nikki Davis-Jones and the gorgeously buoyant ‘First Impressions’ presented in true Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins style by Helena Blackman to great appreciation.
The somewhat shorter second act offers more musical delights, particularly in the form of a lullaby, sung with clear and heartfelt emotion by Shona Lindsay, Gina Beck and Nikki Davis-Jones. The men (Norman Bowman, Daniel Boys and Jon Robins) delight too with the humourous and lyric-rich parody ‘Women’. An ensemble choir of nineteen members from the Guildford School of Acting, competently led by an impressive sounding Maeve Byrne closed the show with ‘Once More’
Fittingly, given that the four sisters were raised alone by their mother Marmee, while their father was away at war, the evening raised funds for the Gingerbread Organisation which supports single parent families.
With a score brimming with good melodies and clever lyrics, this is a work crying out for a fully staged production. With luck and a fair wind, it would be marvellous to see Little Women grow.
- - - - - - - - - -
By Gareth Richardson
Presented in concert on 24th July 2012 only.
Playhouse Theatre, London, WC2.