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. Bookworm says:

    I’ve never seen it, but I like the song “Our Finest Dreams”. Was Sutton really that good? All I ever hear about her is criticism, but I’m no theatre expert, so I can’t judge on her.

  2. Dawn says:

    Sutton Foster is always good. She is so versatile. She even makes mediocre shows like Thoroughly Modern Millie and Little Women work. I was so glad The Drowsy Chaperone finally gave her a show to fit her talents. I am highly critical so I don’t say stuff like this about a lot of actors.

  3. Michelle Cosentino says:

    I’ll admit that I love the musical. It’s all a matter of opinion. If you like it, then yay! Who cares what others will say?

  4. Leah Shaeffer says:

    windscreen wrote:
    It would have been better with songs in it!

    I have to ask what you mean by this, seeing as how it was a musical.

    Anyway. I saw the touring version. It wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t think it was so bad. I got the CD but I never listen to it. I wouldn’t be opposed to performing in it, but I wouldn’t drop everything I was doing to go and audition for it.

  5. windscreen says:

    windscreen wrote:
    It would have been better with songs in it!

    Leah Shaeffer wrote:
    I have to ask what you mean by this, seeing as how it was a musical.

    A song is anything with a melody!

  6. Jack Manion says:

    I haven’t seen it, so I can’t really pass any judgment. My little sister loved it, but she’s not much of a critic. I didn’t really think the music fit the time period, however. My dad’s a major civil war buff so I know my stuff! LOL. I think the small cast size is ideal for some high schools though, such as mine.

    P.S. My sister is good friends with Sutton Foster’s so anything Foster does excites me.

  7. Katie Huber Welty says:

    This is one of those shows that gets better and better upon multiple hearings, which is perhaps why many people dislike it. The complexity of Jo’s relationship with each individual sister, the role of each character in her story, and Prof. Bhaer’s feelings for her throughout the show are hard to grasp on a first listen. The first time I heard the music, I thought it was fairly generic. It took a few times before I started to fall in love with the harmonies and the relationship between the girls.

    Let’s face it, as far as first impressions go, the music is fairly forgettable. Name one “hummable” song from the show – there aren’t any! It’s those who really listen to the music and the meanings behind it that are rewarded with what sweet gems the composers have created for us. My favorites are “Five Forever,” “Some Things are Meant to Be,” and “Finest Dreams!”

  8. Russell Stinson says:

    Katie, I agree with you about hummable songs, although I don’t think the score suffers much for it. The same can be said about many great scores. Try naming five hummable Sondheim songs, for instance, and you’ll know what I mean. I think the most hummable tunes in Little Women are the ballads, especially “Here Alone,” “Some Things Are Meant to Be,” and “Small Umbrella in the Rain.” “Some Things” always makes me want to cry.

    I also agree with you about the show growing on you the more you hear it, although I personally loved on first listen. I’m glad I’m not the only person on this forum who recognizes what a work of genius it is – along with The Light in the Piazza, one of the two best musicals of the last 10 years, if you ask me. I only wish more people shared our opinion.

  9. Rebecca Maiten says:

    I love Little Women. It’s one of my favorite musicals. I loved it when I bought the cast recording; I loved it when I saw it on tour (as in, not with Sutton); and I loved it when I was a deckhand for it at school in September. It’s like I can’t get sick of it. I think it is excellently done, with really great music, and is, in my opinion, better than the novel.

  10. Leah Grosulak says:

    Rebecca Maiten wrote:
    It is… better than the novel.

    You are definitely going to have to explain that! I love the novel!

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