Little Women

Date 28th April 2018
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue The Partisan Basement
Type of Production Musical
Director Annie Williams
Musical Director Tom Pieczora
Choreographer Eleanor Lang

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

‘Little Women’ is Louisa May Alcott’s best known work, both in its country of origin (the US) and here in the UK. It tells the story of four sisters who are living in Massachusetts during the American civil war.

The production centres around Jo (one of the four sisters) which takes her narration to the extreme, choosing to make her the driving force behind most of its scenes and giving her the biggest and most spectacular numbers. Thankfully this pays off for UMMTS’ presentation simply because Freya Parry is a really incredible driving force. She manages to exemplify the best parts of Jo – her enthusiasm, passion, and loyalty with the most epic vocal delivery too, Freya commands the stage during each of Jo's songs with her incredibly emotional, heartfelt renditions, amazing vocal talent, and engaging stage presence. ‘Astonishing’ was simply that!

The set and costumes give off a rather hap dash impression with some garments being completely unsuitable - one character spent the entire production with his trousers undone because they were the wrong size which is just unforgivable and a discredit to the production as a whole, making a mockery of the efforts that’ve been put in to the project in other areas. The set was a selection of dirty mismatch furniture sat in a venue that was far from ideal.

Given the horrendous venue, furnishings and overall poor quality of presentation for the piece I can’t deny how the eminence of the performances did (somehow) manage to make up for it in bucket loads!

Putting the venue, set and some costumes disasters aside, the other forefront shortcoming to this production was the make up – on one person in particular. One of the sisters had so much fake tan and eyebrows shaped like one of the Kardashian sisters that looked wholly out of place for a piece set during the mid 1800’s, despite her out of place appearance her performance was still a worthy contribution to the overall presentation once I’d managed to look past the misplaced external vision.     

UMMTS used to be a society where fine tuning and tiny details mattered, such attention seems to have checked out recently, maybe presenting so many productions under one committee in one year is a stretch too far? Or maybe it’s a variation in different people’s standards? …But one thing (which I suppose is the most important) is how the knack and impressive ability of the performers have continually impressed and never fail to leave a stunning impression.  

Morgan Meredith was a sensitive and heartfelt Marmee, I was sad to read in the programme that this will be her final production with UMMTS as I’m positive we’ve still not seen the best of her yet! She struck in ‘A Chorus Line’ and this performance saw her in a completely different light which didn’t fail to leave an impact of equal proportions, a fine actress and talented vocalist, I’m sad to see her go!  

Jess Adams was a sweet and wholesome Meg who conveyed her story with poise in an ideal interpretation leaving all the correct essences of the character.

Before seeing this production I was only familiar with one of its numbers: ‘Some Things Are Meant To Be’ which I adore, despite having a copy of the soundtrack, it’s only that one song I ever played from it. Aunt March was brought to life by a comical Anna Toogood which, at first thought, was perhaps a little too over the top throwing her character out of sync with the others, however, after doing a bit of research into the stage production it seems to be a popular choice to cast a man in drag as the hoity Aunt which prompted me to look at this role in a different light. Still, I did feel that this portrayal, ever so slightly, distracted me from the more serious elements of the family's story though she’s certainly been written into this musical to generate laughs, so it could very well be the adaptation that’s more at fault than this particular portrayal.

Musically, the orchestra seemed to present the minimum of what was being asked of them but the score and music didn’t quite ignite for me during this performance. ‘Little Women’ in its musical rendering is best to be labelled as a modern classic, it’s score carries a contemporary feel but with the sense that it’s been around for decades which is quite a clever achievement in how it’s been composed.    

Outstanding individual performances - primarily Freya Parry’s Jo with Morgan Meredith’s Marmee coming a close second -  are what made the prominent and most commendable elements to this production and despite some quite major oversights, I enjoyed the performances within the production immensely.