New York City Theater
Performances make the mild "Little Women" just tolerable. Sutton Foster, late of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," is a spirited, ungainly Jo, loping about as she tries to right all wrongs, while Maureen McGovern brings class and excitement to the tepid evening.
Based on Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, this is the story of the four March girls and how they grew - tomboy Jo, beautiful Meg, kind Beth and bratty Amy. Librettist Allan Knee gives us the book's highlights without its shadings, slavishly ladling out plot points by the numbers.
Ideas are kept small, eliminating dramatic external conflict, though the Civil War lurks somewhere in the background. We're left with, "Will Jo find her author's voice and write a believable story?" (Do we doubt the outcome?)
Jason Howland's music is undistinguished (except for the idiosyncratic "Off to Massachusetts") and Mindi Dickstein's lyrics are pedestrian. (Sample: "Do you know how much I miss you / At this hour of the day? / I wish you were twilight / Come to take my fears away.")
The stars do wonders for the songs. Sutton's powerful voice, though amplified to reach Yankee Stadium, tears through the first act finale, "Astonishing." McGovern's second act "Days of Plenty" (the show's "You'll Never Walk Alone" number) deservedly gets an ovation.
Under Susan H. Schulman's labored direction, Janet Carroll manages to have fun as Aunt March and is given the evening's best comedy lines. Jenny Powers' Meg, Megan McGinnis' Beth and Amy McAlexander's Amy are distinct characterizations. Jim Weitzer, Danny Gurwin and John Hickok are worthy suitors, while Robert Stattel does what he can as a grumpy neighbor.
But this is a weak musical - all old lace and no arsenic.
-- David A. Rosenberg
March 11, 2005