Little Women

Original Broadway Cast, 2005 (Ghostlight) No stars; not recommended. Among the most distressing of all musicals are those adaptations of classic literature that are very poorly crafted but achieve some significant degree of success regardless, because the characters and storytelling of the source material are so beloved as to ensure the musical will garner fans who are not sensitive to the fact that the score is second-, third-, or even fourth-rate. One prime example is Little Women, with music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and a book by Allan Knee. Although this show inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s novel had only a four-month run on Broadway, it has been frequently produced regionally on both the professional and amateur levels — never mind that the score is serviceable at best and deplorable at worst. Howland’s music is generic, derivative, and exhibits no sense of period style, while Dickstein’s lyrics are prosaic and obvious. One of the most egregious songs to be found here is “Astonishing,” so ineptly written that the one-word title, repeated many times throughout the lyric, is annoyingly set with the accent on the wrong syllable (the final one, rather than the second one). In the role of Jo, Sutton Foster offers performances of this and other songs marked by the sort of extremely unpleasant, pinched and raw high-belting that tends to cause young female audiences to scream approval but is nevertheless a blight on the musical theater. The lovely voices of Danny Gurwin as Laurie, John Weitzer as John Brooke, and especially the great Maureen McGovern as Marmee provide some respite from all that’s going on around them, but given the generally very low quality of the material that they too are given to sing, their contributions are not enough to make this recording worthwhile. The same can be said for the singers heard here in the roles of the other “little women” — Amy McAlexander as Amy, Megan McGinnis as Beth, Jenny Powers as Meg — who also fail to make much of an impression because they have comparatively little to do. According to the nervy marketing blurb on the cast album cover, “Six generations have read this story. This one will sing it.” As was the case with the infamous Cats catch phrase “Now and forever,” one wonders if that’s meant as a promise, a threat, or an ultimatum. — Michael Portantiere