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Little Women as feminist mantra. And musical

Photo by Paul KolnikLittle Womenis the Madonna (the singer) of plot lines: Louisa May Alcott's most famous work has been reinvented as opera; film, multiple times; TV series (four); touring operetta; ballet; London musical; off-Broadway musical; anime; and play, several times. What's one more musical?

I want to say it's too much, one more iteration of this hopelessly optimistic Civil War yarn about four cozy sisters living with their Marmee whilst Dad's away, but Jan Turnquist, executive director of Orchard House—the 19th-century home where the Alcott family lived and Louisa penned the cuddle-up-in-front-of-a-fire 1869 classic—reminds me that this latest version of the book should still appeal to women like me.

"I sort of hate to go with the [phrase] 'family values,'" Turnquist says. "Even the word sounds ugh—like 'Are you talking about some religious thing?' But everyone knows what it means to feel secure in a family. Whatever family means to you. The Alcott and March girls were working in an era when women were just not supposed to do that, and they held their heads up high and knew what it meant to be loyal to each other and care about each other. Even people who didn't grow up with that want that. Family is a place where they have to take you in."

I'm a woman like me; she's got a point. In any form, Little Women is something of a feminist mantra, embraced by Gloria Steinem, Oprah, et al. Its story is, by now, well-known. The frenetic Jo, played by Kate Fisher, aspires to become a famous writer and must help support her family by tagging along with the crusty Aunt March, who, in perfect E.M. Forster fashion, represents Jo's future should she not follow her ambitions. As Marmee, Maureen McGovern, '70s Disaster Movie Queen (The Towering Inferno, Airplane!), brings her lustrous vocals to the role of the lonely matriarch who must guide her four girls through adolescence. With songs by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein like "I'd Be Delighted" and "Days of Plenty," it's a living, breathing, singing version of the G-rated book you read before graduating to Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Some Broadway critics panned this version as an "overeager school play," and it lasted only four months in NYC, but the story of a girl who has the guts to follow her goals, men be damned, should appeal to a certain female audience. That, at least, is what Orange County Performing Arts Center hopes—to follow in the footsteps of shows like Wicked, Brooklyn, Mamma Mia! and Hairspray and harness the girl-power buck.

It could happen again; every now and then, universal appeal translates into box office. The time could be ripe to revisit Alcott's solid, intellectual, anti-establishment roots: a recently impoverished, yet still genteel family, they were friends of Thoreau and Emerson, devoted to women's rights, the abolition of slavery, and transcendentalism—the belief in the essential unity of all, the innate goodness of man, the supremacy of insight over logic, and the need for experience to reveal the deepest truths.

Or not; this is still Orange County. This time, maybe, is the time Jo's birthday horse throws her off. We'll see.

LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL AT SEGERSTROM HALL, ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 556-2787 OR (714) 556-2746; WWW.OCPAC.ORG. TUES.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 & 7:30 P.M. SEPT. 6-18. $21.25-$64.75.

 
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