REVIEW: Aurora Fox’s musical ‘Little Women’ a holiday time warp

511

The United States was on its way to becoming one helluva place in 1868.

Ulysses S. Grant beat out Horatio Seymour to become the country’s 18th president. Wyoming became a territory. Civil rights legend W.E.B. Du Bois was born. And Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” was published for the first time.

By some accounts, it was quite a time to be alive. It was a time when “see here,” “hold on,” and “I say” qualified as slang; when women were always expected if not required to accept invitations to dance; and when marriage proposals were suggested to be kept secret from just about everyone except for parents and a single close friend. At least, that’s according to “A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding,” a book by one “Daisy Eyebright” that was also published in 1868.

Thankfully, the social fabric has steadily evolved over the course of the past 137 years. However, that progress isn’t terribly apparent when watching The Aurora Fox Arts Center’s dusted-off take on Alcott’s beloved tale.

The Fox’s musical rendition of “Little Women,” which had three preview performances at the PACE Center in Parker last weekend, is a tough sell for 2015 audiences. Sure, it’s a compelling enough story about love, loss and independence that has inspired more than a few generations of readers to not settle for the mundane. But in a time when women can vote (gasp!), hold jobs outside of the home (egad!) and stage viable runs to become leader of the free world, it’s tough to be even moderately taken by  the protagonist’s 19th century, vaguely independent moral dilemmas. What may have been progressive in 1868 doesn’t elicit more than a few blinks in 2015.

Directed by Bev Newcomb, the story centers on the four March sisters, Amy, Meg, Beth and resident spitfire, Jo, and their difficult, penniless adolescence in Concord, Mass. amid the throes of the American Civil War. Over the course of several years, the sisters learn to navigate a poverty-stricken “Christmas without any presents,” how to care for each other during times of strife and illness, and, of course, how to find and pursue life’s True North, which dramatically varies for each of them as the plot unfolds.

Propped up by Music Director Martha Yordy’s spritely orchestral quartet, the show feels like a wandering nod to “Sound of Music” wrapped in the antiquated perplexities of “Little House on the Prairie,” and basted with a thin coat of Rosie the Riveter’s brass. True, the tale is a vital history lesson in independent thought, though it takes more than simply passing the Bechdel Test and throwing on some inflated American Girl Doll outfits to claim cogency in the 21st century.

Despite the show’s shortcomings in the realm of relevance, The Fox production is buoyed by an adroit cast that manages to tackle a musty script with imposing falsettos and commanding bravada. Boni McIntyre satisfies as the uptight Aunt March and Katie Jackson is a welcome comedic side dish in act I — blonde stereotypes be damned. Both  Megan Van De Hey as the tender Marmee and Mark Lively as Laurie also serve up commendable performances, shrewdly masking some potentially bucolic moments with passion and care.

But Angela Mendez as Jo March thankfully and definitively owns the show. Mendez manages to punch impressive depth into the leading heroine’s character, and adeptly latches onto Jo’s creative crisis of whether or not to pursue her writing. That lingering self-doubt is what allows her to deliver the show’s most potent line with a necessary cocktail of fear, anger and defiance: “Yes, there’s somebody else — there’s me.” It’s with that string of words, and a handful of others, that she is able to extend Jo’s hand to all of the fanboys and girls in the audience who have so closely identified with the sovereign prima donna for nearly 150 years.

In the end, the show presents a complicated generational clash with both thorny anachronisms and apposite merits. Are the characters and plot devices dated? Undoubtedly. Suggesting that novels, yes novels, are atrocious devil rags reserved only for Methodists isn’t a notion currently floating around the zeitgeist. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s also a chance for parents, grandparents and Alcott superfans to pass a cherished story of acceptance and independence onto a new generation of real life, 21st century little women and men. And that’s worth a trip down East Colfax Avenue — as long as those same pint-sized people are also provided a heavy diet of the Malala’s, Condoleezza’s and other influential women of the world who are a bit more pertinent than the March clan.

[wc_fa icon=”star” margin_left=”” margin_right=””][/wc_fa][wc_fa icon=”star” margin_left=”” margin_right=””][/wc_fa][wc_fa icon=”star” margin_left=”” margin_right=””][/wc_fa][wc_fa icon=”star-o” margin_left=”” margin_right=””][/wc_fa][wc_fa icon=”star-o” margin_left=”” margin_right=””][/wc_fa]

“Little Women”

Runs Nov. 27 through Dec. 27.

Curtains open at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. on Sundays.

The Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 E. Colfax Ave.

Tickets start at $22.

Call (303) 739-1970 or visit aurorafoxartscenter.org for more information.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
1 Comment
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Suzanne French
Suzanne French
5 years ago

I find it quite interesting that nearly all of the reviewer’s negative comments about this play deal with how horribly outdated and irrelevant it is. Interesting, considering that I rarely – if ever- hear those comments about period plays featuring almost entirely men, and certainly never from this reviewer. Shakespeare, Ibsen, Miller, Williams – not only are these plays never questioned for their ‘timeliness’ or relevance, they are in fact, lauded as being something we can all relate to. Moreover, something we SHOULD all relate to and feel terribly guilty about if we aren’t familiar with them all…even if some of them feature minor female characters at best. But a story featuring ENTIRELY women? Well, that has nothing to say to any of us anymore does it? I hate to disappoint you, Mr. Snowdon, but modern audiences can and do understand the differences between previous times and our own while still deeply connecting to the characters and their stories. These women are strong, vulnerable, smart, and deeply loving and dedicated to their families. Women are the same today. This story is no less pertinent to me now than the stories of the women I actually live with. I’ve adjusted to my own daughter using different slang than I did without finding her life meaningless and unable to relate to. I frequently read biographies and watch historical documentaries without becoming completely wearied and needing to switch to whatever woman is important ‘right now’ because, guess what, history is fascinating and important. The fact that you condescendingly dismiss this entire play because the women’s lives are so trivial (while trying ever so hard to hide the fact that it is an absolutely stellar production) is sexist, insulting, and beneath this publication. Little Women triumphs because it is a beautiful slice of history, because it is a powerful study in love and family, and because it is about WOMEN, a fact you are clearly entirely unable to wrap your head around.