I had the good fortune of seeing NextStop Theatre Company’s Little Women. The musical, based on Louise May Alcott’s beloved semi-autobiographical classic, follows the four March sisters in the 1860s. With a father away, serving as a chaplain in the Civil War, the sisters and their mother do their best to stay positive and happy, with very little wealth but endless imagination.
The story stays true to the original, with songs placed to accentuate light-hearted and heavy moments, alike. (The music is by Jason Howard, the lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and the book by Allan Knee.)
The set, designed by Nadir Bey, is simple and all wood, which suits the cold of winter and meager home the work begins in. A rolling archway is upstage center but moves throughout the show to signify transitions, and a change of location, with the help of a desk and rolling bookcase that turns around to be an armoire.
Two upstage pianos, played by Elisa Rosman (also serving as music director) and Scott Richards, provide the music for the production and are often incorporated into scenes when a character takes a turn on the keys.
Director Charlotte La Nasa has done a lovely job creating a natural and flowing feel in movement that keeps the momentum of the show at a pleasantly steady pace.
Alex De Bard plays Jo March, a brilliant light of creativity and inspiration. Jo writes fantastical stories and dreams of being an author. The show focuses mainly on her journey as she grows as a writer and a woman. De Bard illustrates this journey with an infectious joy that captures Jo’s naivete, and gradually blooms into a confident woman who has found her voice — and De Bard’s voice is breathtaking. Her passion and energy are explosive and every time she opens her mouth I was blown away.
Professor Bhaer is played by Harrison Smith. He and Jo constantly butt heads but, despite their differences, show a true respect and admiration for each other. De Bard and Smith work well together and their chemistry evolves easily, making their eventual pairing believable. Smith doesn’t get to sing that often but shows his lovely voice in “How I Am” as he fumbles to find the words to respond to a letter from Jo.
The lovely Abby Middleton is the eldest sister, Meg, playing the level-headed romantic so well that it seems fitting when she falls in love with the polite and refined Mr. Brooke (John Sygar). Sygar and Middleton are a good match and sing the charming “More Than I Am” upon their engagement.
Caroline Graham plays Beth with a genuine sweetness that instantly endears her to the audience. Beth and Jo are the closest and De Bard and Graham’s devotion is heart-warming.
Beth also forms an unlikely bond with Mr. Lawrence, played with the crotchety charisma of Michael Sherman, who is at first seen as a villain of sorts. But he takes a liking to Beth’s humble kindness when he comes across her at the piano singing “Off to Massachusetts.” Sherman and Graham lean in to the moment and beautifully display the burgeoning friendship with a pure sigh of relief as you see each filling a void — of Mr. Lawrence’s deceased daughter and Beth’s absent father — for the other.
Tori Gomez is the youngest of the siblings, Amy. Gomez is a firecracker of mischief and immaturity and her transition into a refined young woman is exciting to watch. Amy surprisingly becomes engaged to the shy Laurie (Tony Lemus), who has been like a brother to the March sisters.
Katie McManus is Marmee, the glue that holds the March family together. Marmee is a strong female character, illustrating both the joy and hardship a mother must often endure. McManus captures this struggle perfectly as she sings the pining “Here Alone,” wishing her husband was home with her.
And Aunt March (Michelle Harmon Bruno) is another strong female character but of an entirely different cloth. She pushes, unsuccessfully, for Jo to become a proper lady, singing the cheeky “Could You?”
Throughout the show, there are fantastically overacted enactments of Jo’s work. As she begins “An Operatic Tragedy” with captivating enthusiasm, the characters bound onto the stage to hilariously act out what Jo envisions. These are some of the few deviations from the book and happen quite often, to the delight of the audience. The actors double as the characters, with exaggerated gesticulation and much pomp. The moments offer levity and silliness amid the hardship and drama.
A highlight of the show is an endearing scene where Marmee is giving the girls advice before they head to a ball. She sings “Delighted” as the ladies dance together and practice how to behave when asked to dance by a boy. It was a very real moment, when the audience could feel the family connection and love they had for each other.
McManus’ “Days of Plenty” had me in a puddle of tears. Marmee sings of how to deal with the pain of loss and not become lost in it. Having lost a dear friend recently, this song struck a chord with me and McManus’ rich voice reached deep into my heart with her performance.
My favorite moment is De Bard’s “A Fire Within Me.” The song is packed with so many layers of emotion. Jo mourns her sister Beth, discovers true inspiration around her in her family, and finds that the story she’s been needing to write all along is her own. It’s a moving evolution of thought and De Bard’s execution is magical.
I grew up with Little Women, and Jo March’s dreams and aspirations lit a fire inside me to consume literature and arts and take up writing myself. NextStop has offered a delightful version that honors Alcott’s original, with a talented cast. The show is all parts love and loveliness, full of hope and dreams that feel truly attainable.
NextStop’s Little Women is a comforting delight. A familiar haunt imbued with fresh energy and performed with an abundance of heart and passion. A definite not-to-be-missed experience.
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Little Women plays through September 25, 2022, at NextStop Theatre Company, located at 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. Tickets ($52 including fees) are available online or by calling the box office at 703-481-5930.
The program for Little Women is online here.
COVID Safety: Masks are required for all patrons inside the building unless actively eating or drinking. If a patron does not have a mask, disposable masks will be available for any and all guests upon request. Patrons who do not comply with these policies will not be admitted or asked to leave the theater. NextStop’s complete COVID Safety Policies are here.
Little Women: The Musical
Book by Allan Knee
Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Music by Jason Howland
Adapted From The Novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Charlotte La Nasa
Musical Direction by Elisa Rosman
Cast: Jo March- Alex De Bard, Amy March-Tori Gomez, Beth March-Caroline Graham, Meg March-Abby Middleton, Laurie-Tony Lemus, Marmee-Katie McManus, Professor Bhaer-Harrison Smith, Mr. Laurence-Michael Sherman, Aunt March/Mrs.Kirk-Michelle Harmon Bruno, Mr. Brooke-John Sygar, Swings-Allison Bradbury, Jeremy Allen Crawford, Ricky Drummond, Jane Margulies Kalbfeld
Musicians: Piano 1-Elisa Rosman, Piano 2-Scott Richards
Creative Team: Director-Charlotte La Nasa, Music Director- Elisa Rosman, Choreographer-Janine Baumgardner, Scenic Designer-Nadir Bey, Lighting Designer-Dominic DeSalvio, Costume Designer-Alexa Duimstra, Stage Manager-Regina Vitale, Asst. Stage Manager-Sophia Menconi, Sound Designer-Gordon Nimmo-Smith, Props Designer/Asst. Stage Manager-Janelle Woods