By McKenna Johnson
The magic of Little Women at the Sandra N. Lloyd Community Center in Riverton is that its scenes strike audiences with the joy, tragedy, and adventure of everyday life while helping the audience explore the depths of our own experience.
Little Women, based on the Louisa May Alcott novel of the same name, started at Duke University before hitting Broadway. With a story written by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, the musical tells the story of the four March sisters, who live in Connecticut with their mother as they establish their places in the world.
I drove from Provo to Riverton to see Little Women, and the show was worth every mile. The Riverton Arts Council and Director Doug Bishop present high-quality theatre to the Salt Lake area.
One of the most impressive aspects of the production is the availability of ASL interpreters Amy Johnson, Shae Underwood, and Mickel Schultz on the 14th and the 21st. The interpreters’ facial expressions and presentation enable the deaf community to participate in the theatre community on a higher level.
Additionally, the production has a live orchestra, which is a game-changer even professional performing groups often forego. While the orchestra did have some tuning issues, Conductor Kim Rimmasch and the orchestra musicians provide the audience with musical immersion, heightened emotion, and beautiful violin solos.
The vocalists in this production are great in general and blow the roof off what audiences sometimes expect from community theatre. All the performers are strong singers, and listeners can tell that Music Director Lisa Olsen and Assistant Music Director Jerry Westberg did their jobs well.
Jo March (Abigail Chapman) is impetuous and spirited, and even on its own, her strong voice makes the production worth seeing. I can’t choose a favorite number, but I particularly enjoyed Chapman’s work in “Astonishing” and “The Fire Within Me.” Beth March (Lily May Snow) broke my heart in the best way possible. I recommend you bring tissues. Snow’s clear voice, which the audience gets a sample of in “Off to Massachusetts,” comes out with full force in “Some Things Are Meant to Be,” which I sobbed through. Marmee (Lisa Olsen) also brought the waterworks in “Days of Plenty,” which helps listeners experience life amidst grief. Amanda Rogers makes an excellent Meg, presenting Meg’s romantic tendencies, insecurities, and confidence cohesively.
The young Amy March (Grace Colvin) is everyone’s little sister. Colvin’s pout is perfect, and her Amy is endearing and relatable even while — perhaps especially while — she’s infuriating. Hannah Van Leeuwen, who portrays the older Amy, takes over the character smoothly. The audience recognizes Amy from her younger years but is able to see how she’s grown into her own person.
Laurie (Tanner Tate) is enthusiastic, a bit awkward, and endearing, and Tate nails both the musical and spoken aspects of his role throughout the show. Mr. Laurence (Stephen McBride) was one of my favorite characters, thanks to McBride’s careful balance of Mr. Laurence’s crusty shell and gentle heart. His performance in “Off to Massachusetts” develops the character in very little time. Angela Healy blends Aunt March’s unforgiving standards with enduring affection for Jo so that the character is universal. While Aunt March and Jo will never see eye-to-eye, Aunt March learns to accept, accommodate, and even empower Jo.
I enjoyed seeing Amy March, Aunt March, and Mr. Laurence depicted by actors of appropriate ages. While many productions might make one think that all actors are in their 20s, Little Women creates its own reality with vibrant characters of varying ages. While I remember the novel’s Professor Bhaer as more of a 19th-Century plot resolution than a character, the musical gives Professor Bhaer (Jerry Westberg) a bigger role. Westberg’s performance in “How I Am” and “Small Umbrella in the Rain” does a lot to establish Bhaer’s character as well as his relationship with Jo.
The technical aspects of the play are well-done. At the beginning of the play, Chapman’s microphone had some issues, but the sound team, Spencer Baumann and Griffin McMullin, resolved the problem. The sets (Mark Halvosen and Terry Atkinson) are intricate and transfixing without being opulent, and when the March family gets a new piano, the stage crew, working under stage manager Amber Knaras, even moves the old piano to the area of the set designated as the March family’s attic.
Despite the fact that sets for several different locations remain on the stage at the same time, the audience doesn’t get distracted or confused, thanks in large part to the lighting design (Halvosen and Ashton Pease).
Choreographer Vicki Wartman’s choices enhance the show without being obtrusive, particularly in “Five Forever,” and the costuming (Kim Osterl, Heather Van Leeuwen, and Alaina Laiku) is a dream, depicting the March family’s well-to-do connections and financial limitations. The dresses the March sisters wear reflect their personalities, social standing, and activities at any given time.
The acting in the beginning of the play often felt like actors delivering lines rather than characters speaking with each other. However, as the play went on, the woodenness was whittled away.
The vocal excellence of Riverton Art Council’s Little Women catapults the performance to the pinnacle of community theatre. The experience is accessible to ASL users, is a fantastic value for the price, and is a great production for families, friends, and anyone else who breathes. Take a little time and see Riverton’s Little Women.
Riverton Arts Council Presents Little Women, Book by Allan Knee, Music by Jason Howland, Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Sandra N. Lloyd Community Center, 12830 S. Redwood Rd., Riverton, UT 84065
April 13-14, 16, 20-21, 23 7:00 PM ASL interpreters provided April 14th, 21st
Contact via contact form on website
Riverton Arts Council Facebook Page
Little Women Facebook Event