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Let me begin by merely saying the latest Hamilton County Theatre Guild offering of Little Women at The Belfry is possibly the best show I have seen at this theatre and is a likely candidate for sellouts the rest of it’s run – a run which is distressingly short and ends on June 19. If you love great presentations of outstanding musical theatre, you should call The Belfry’s reservation number 317.773.1085 now(!) and grab a seat for this superb production – even before you read this. Now on with the review!

I have never seen the Broadway musical version of this treasured Louisa May Alcott story – I never read the book. Having seen the film version, I know the timeless and emotional tale of 4 sisters growing up together and apart. I must say, the added music by Jason Howard with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and the book by Allan Knee both empower and enrich the story. What makes HCTG’s production so great is the outstanding direction by the tandem of Brenna Whitaker and Christy Clinton (with vocal direction by Betsy Bullis) and the extreme singing talents of not one, two or three of the performers but all ten singers. I am sure Ms. Whitaker and Ms. Clinton are very pleased with the cast they found – as an audience member last evening, so was I.

Veteran actress Susan Boilek Smith takes the role of Marmee, the mother of 4 diverse and growing daughters. Ms. Smith’s sensitive portrayal is highlighted by her work in the character’s two solos, which she offers up in emotionally striking renditions. The four daughters are played with unfailing exactness by Elisa Maudlin as the fragile Beth, Ellie Viola as the impatient and spontaneous Amy, Ellen Turner as Meg, the romantic of the group, and Anna Dewey in the lead role as the dynamic, outspoken Jo. All these ladies are exceptional singers. Of special note to me is Ms. Maudlin, whom at the tender age of 15 does impressive work with a multi-faceted character. She is talented beyond her years and I look forward to seeing her progress in our theatre community. Ms. Turner and Ms. Viola also give strong and significant performances both in their acting and their musical craft.

Anna Dewey is nothing short of phenomenal in her grand depiction of Jo. Her brilliant vocal talent is augmented by wonderful acting choices throughout the arc of the story. Ms. Dewey soars through intricate solo pieces – especially the impressive first act closer “Astonishing” and the second act’s tender “The Fire Within Me”. She is presently a senior musical theatre major at Belmont University, so we’ll hope to see much more of this skilled performer on this and other stages.

Remarkable depictions abound throughout the cast. John Parks Whitaker offers a fully realized Laurie – self conscious and mild; Jill O’Malia is barely recognizable in her wonderful Belfry debut as Aunt March; Mark Tumey adds to his long list of stage accomplishments with a kindly Mr. Laurence, Jan Borcherding is a snoopy Mrs. Kirk; Aaron Mowles plays Meg’s love interest John Brooke with a quiet flair; and Darrin Gowan is splendidly unsettled as the proper Professor Bhaer . All are impressive with their strong, expressive and often harmonizing vocals.

Several ancillary facets of the show deserve special mention. First of all, I was delighted to hear the score provided in a pre-recorded full-sounding digital rendition. Using the big sound of a full orchestration gave addition power to the songs and incidental music. Secondly, in a show filled with set changes, this production employs a large, well-rehearsed crew of stagehands and an ingenious set designed by Kendell Roberts. The longest change is probably about 30 seconds or so – the quick, choreographed movement, aided by the aforementioned music as an accompaniment to it, is greatly appreciated by this “not a fan of long set changes” critic. Well done! Finally, let me add that costume designs by Marilyn Dearmin and Norma Floyd added greatly.

Bottom line: this is not only a superior production of a marvelous and captivating musical, it is a show that all ages can enjoy. The once-in-a-lifetime cast simply knocks this one out of the park!

Little Women continues at The Belfry for four more performances – scheduled for June 12,17,18 & 19. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 pm, while Sunday matinees begin at 2 pm. You can find out more about the show and reservations by linking here or by calling 317.773.1085.

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