"Little Women ready for remix"
by remotegoat reviewer for remotegoat on 16/12/11

The title of 'The Musical' is now old fashioned. It is no longer enough to slap the words 'The' and 'Musical' on the end of a famous novel whilst adding period costumes, a death, a dream and a marriage scene - as has been the practise. We don't automatically have punters flocking to see the new Mackintosh produced piece for 10 yrs. anymore. Why? The audience is smarter now and when you get shows like 'Top Gun: The Musical' 'Evil Dead': The Musical (Yes, they exist.) a suspicion begins. Apparently, anything can be a musical now. Of course it can - with learned artists behind it. Now, Jason Robert Brown tweeted this week 'No one is passionate about 'Flashdance' coming to Broadway' How does he know? Because he knows his trade. I imagine Flashdance to be an awful opportunistic piece of theatre with some day-glo colours and 4 reprises of 'What a Feeling'. Yup, time to re-boot people because 'The Musical' was hijacked whilst we weren't looking. It's been augmented and starved of any truth it once had and any efforts to sell a serious artistic piece will now be drowned out, laughed at, dismissed or not taken seriously. Unless WE shake things up.


Musicals peaked after 'Les Miserables' was adapted so successfully and 'Mama Mia' emerged. I cite 'Les Miz' and 'Mamma' in this review as they define two important moments in MT history that creators of this musical (Little Women) and future pieces should absorb. They both condensed what had come before and then sold it as if it were an original idea. That's the genius of genius. After their arrival a relentless amount of pretenders to the thrones emerged. 'Tonight's the Night' & 'Napoleon' to give two examples. Some successes, albeit financial over artistic, have leaked through the cracks convincing producers to believe that this is what the public wanted– take a piece of pop-culture, call it a musical and 'Ta-dah' you have a cash cow. Oh, and don't forget to find some music. Naturally the market became saturated by lemming producers with too much dosh so as a result totally original and honest musical theatre struggled to compete. Having said that the closure of larger shows 'Lend me a Tenor' & 'Betty Blue Eyes' are examples of great love, style and money that have also died premature deaths due to misjudging the zeitgeist. What we have been told we need and what we want have become an issue again – what an exciting time is ahead! (Sondheim exists in a protected universe where the love never dies BTW.)


But hang on, according to Cameron Mackintosh more people attended musical theatre shows than attended football in 2010. Fab, but are the shows artistically any good? Personally, I think Billy Elliot should be made to go stand in the corner and sing his songs over and over until he remembers them because no one else can. As for 'Wicked' - the green curtain still hides the composer standing on the shoulders of a giant. Thankfully, a new revolution has begun with 'London Road' 'Matilda', the stonking traverse presentation of 'Parade' and the scaled back 'Sunset Boulevard', so we may be relieved of our conflict with style over substance soon.


This was why 'Little Women – The Musical' at The Lost Theatre by Segal & Leyton, Directed by Nicola Samer was a delight and a frustration. It was a passionate effort. The cast apply themselves professionally and in particular Jane Quinn, Claire Chambers and the likeable Charlotte Newton John proved natural ability is everything. Everyone wants this show to work, including me. With new musicals I do go with suspicious ears and never expected to enjoy the music so much. Hats off to Mr Segal as I was humming 'Everybody's Getting Married' whilst watching TV an hour later! I did have problems with the book however and the part of Amy and her 'grammatical errors' Surely the comedy comes from her not realising innocent mistakes, as a child would? The costumes designed by Natalie Moggridge were lovingly chosen with great textures. It really is a fine line with these period pieces as they can tend to look pastiche, but there was enough unusual fabrics to keep you occupied. The set (also by Moggridge) didn't really fuse the piece together and it remained only serviceable, but an admirable attempt to give us something.


Now, If I say 'Little Women' what images conjure in your head? Frills? Pattern? Handkerchieves? The book by Louisa May Alcott is a very popular one, especially in America. It's baked in. She's almost admired like Dickens is here providing actors with opportunities to wear frocks, act 'frightful' and pinch their dresses in excitement. That's my issue with this musical. I felt like I had seen it all before as nothing new was brought to the table. In short, I wasn't engaged as a modern theatre goer. As it is no longer a road to success by putting 'The Musical' on the end of a famous story it is also no longer acceptable to have dream sequences to shoehorn in a 'showstopper' or sing 'wiping the clouds away' to cheer up a character. Let us also move on from light changes signalling a song and finally when a character dies let us not walk off into a smoke filled door representing 'Heaven' anymore. The techniques are old fashioned. The jig is up.


So what is the way forward for 'Little Women'? I imagine that this show will live on shelves in drama schools and operatic societies, which is perfectly reasonable, but if the creators want this piece to have legs beyond this production they must find a modern voice with a performance language that tells this great story in a new way.

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