After every production at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, this reviewer is always reminded of the excellent talent pool of avocational actors in the Indianapolis area. Friday’s production of “Little Women” was no exception. “Little Women” is currently playing at the Tarkington Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Ind.
The musical, with a book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and music by Jason Howland, is based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1869 semi-autobiographical novel. It centers on the four March sisters—aspiring writer Jo, her sisters, Meg, Amy, Beth, and their mother, Marmee. They are keeping the home fires burning in Concord, Massachusetts while the patriarch of the family is away fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. Interspersed throughout the musical are several recreations of Jo’s stories.
Michael J. Lasley astutely directed “Little Women” and was aided by the talents of music director Brent E. Marty and choreographer Michael Worcel. Their collaboration ensured a professional endeavor, which bespoke the quality one can expect when seeing a Civic production.
The main attraction of the show, however, was the strong performance of Julia Bonnett as the headstrong and passionate Jo, who is determined to become a famous writer. Bonnet was the inaugural winner of the American Songbook High School Vocal competition in 2009 and has previously turned in winning performances in other Civic productions including “Into the Woods,” “A Chorus Line,” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Once again, Bonnett shined is the Civic’s latest musical. Possessing star quality, Bonnett was impressive both vocally and as an actress.
Bonnett and Amanda Kennedy (as Jo and her sister, Beth) were particularly moving in a heart-wrenching scene that takes place on the seashore where a dying Beth says goodbye in “Some Things Are Meant to Be.” Bonnett also excelled in “The Fire Within Me,” which Jo sings once she realizes that her own family is the ideal subject for the novel, “Little Women,” which would eventually make her (Jo/Louisa May Alcott) famous.
Also turning in a fine vocal and dramatic performance was Katie Schuman as Marmee, the all-understanding, empathetic rock of the family, and loving mother of four uniquely individual daughters. Schuman was especially affecting in “Days of Plenty” when her character encourages Jo to move on after Beth has died.
Ethan Litt as Laurie Lawrence (or Theodore Lawrence II) gave a superb performance as the guileless, enthusiastic neighbor of the family, who falls in love with Jo only to be rejected by her, but he eventually marries Jo’s pretentious sister, Amy.
Fans of the book “Little Women” might be disappointed in this capsulized treatment of the beloved 1869 novel, but any disappointment will quickly dissipate once they hear the musical’s pleasant score and witness the solid performances of actors who do fine justice to the book’s characters.
“Little Woman” runs through Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Tarkington Theater. For information and tickets call (317) 843-3800 or visit thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.