LITTLE WOMEN: a Missed Opportunity?

Little Women


I was giving the cast album of Little Women, a show that has not made much of an impact on me in the past, another spin in the CD player recently and was, as ever, frustrated by what Mindi Dickstein and Jason Howland brought to the score of their adaptation of this much-beloved classic. I have a soft spot for the novel and have always thought that the novel had the potential to be a great musical, but this is not it.

During this listen, I wondered what the reviews of the Broadway production were like and found this evaluation of the show in Time. The overall tone of the review is positive, but the piece ends with a decidedly unambiguous slating of the score:

Richard Zoglin wrote:
Though it’s based on a beloved book for young people, Little Women: The Musical is the most adult new musical of the Broadway season and an unexpectedly satisfying meal. Skillfully adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s novel by Allan Knee…. the show is pretty, unpretentious, warmhearted but surprisingly restrained: even the death of Beth, the quiet sister felled by scarlet fever, takes place offstage…. If only the score by Jason Howland had a few decent tunes, Little Women might have been a real banquet.

Calling Little Women the most adult new musical of the season is damning the show with faint praise, considering that the only other new musicals that had opened by the time that Little Women premiered were Dracula and Brooklyn. The truly worthwhile new musicals of that season all opened after that. Of course, Zoglin didn’t have the advantage of knowing that when he wrote his review – but it does make me chuckle to think that his statement in this case really only holds true if you don’t know the context of the season in which Little Women was produced.

Oh well, the novel is in the public domain, so perhaps someone will take another shot at some point. Of that much, Louisa May Alcott’s stories about Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are most certainly worthy…

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27 Responses to LITTLE WOMEN: a Missed Opportunity?

  1. Russell Stinson says:

    I loved Little Women. I just thought the score had so many powerful numbers (“Here Alone”, “Take a Chance on Me”, “Five Forever”, “Astonishing”, “Some Things Are Meant to Be”, “Small Umbrella in the Rain” – just to name a few). Granted, the book drags in places, but the power of the score more than makes up for it.

    What I want to know is why so many people seem to think that Little Women was a bad show. The show only ran on Broadway for something like 6 months, despite having the incredible Sutton Foster. If there’s anybody here besides me who likes Little Women, please speak up. I’m really kind of disappointed that so many people seem to dislike one of my favorite shows.

  2. Dawn says:

    The novel is dull to start with and musicalizing it makes it more long and dragged out. The score is weak. The play is plodding. Sutton Foster saved yet another mediocre show from closing on opening night.

  3. Samantha Piper says:

    I agree. Although I love “Atonishing” and think that it’s a great number, the only thing saving this musical was Sutton.

  4. Gelan Swift says:

    It would have been better with songs in it!

  5. windscreen says:

    It would have been better with songs in it!

  6. Leah Grosulak says:

    I loved the novel. I’ve read it a bajillion times and I’ve also seen all 3 movie adaptations of the novel as well. I’m a bit of a Little Women fangirl.

    That being said the musical definitely fell flat. I saw the touring version and I honestly couldn’t remember one song from the show. I’ve listened to the music now independently from seeing the show, so I could now tell you songs, but immediately after the show there weren’t any memorable parts. The focus was entirely on Jo, which is not true to the book – but it is the way that 95% of stage/screen adaptations go – and so the other characters get absolutely no development. Good grief, the Meg/John plot line is skimmed over so quickly it’s disgusting. Once she is married, that’s the end of that. I don’t even really remember Amy from the show. Beth only gets more recognition because she dies. They expect you to believe a Jo/Prof Bhaer romance when they give very little backing or evidence to why they would fall in love. They just rushed everything. It was hard for me to enjoy and sympathize with the characters because everything came at you crazy fast. I’ve read/seen quite a few stage versions of Little Women and almost all give absolutely no indication that Amy and Laurie are going to get together so, when it happens, it seems very unbelievable. Plus, Jo in pants? Worst costuming decision ever. She would not have been in pants, even if she was a tomboy, which she is not in the book – not in that time period.

    Anyway, I’d love to continue to discuss this! I love the book and the Little Women universe in general, so I love discussing.

  7. The Very Angry Woman says:

    Leah Grosulak wrote:
    They just rushed everything. It was hard for me to enjoy and sympathize with the characters because everything came at you crazy fast.

    Or crazy slow. The show is alternately plodding and rushed. I loved the tour cast – but they were really the only reason I saw the tour multiple times. The material just isn’t that strong, although it’s a fairly decent night out at the theatre. However, this is coming from someone who never read the book, so any complaints about it not being true to the material weren’t an issue with me.

  8. Leah Grosulak says:

    I was just bored and found the story hard to follow, even for such a Little Women nerd.

  9. SuperKabob says:

    The show was meh. I loved the set, but that’s really all I can remember being particularly fantastic.

  10. Glissando says:

    I will admit I’ve never seen the show, but I have the cast recording and I personally love it. I will admit that it’s not the strongest show, but I like the songs. Sutton and Megan saved it, I think.

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