stonishing: It’s what Jo March yearns to be, pacing in her attic, spinning gruesome, spectacular tales to take the publishing world by storm. But Louisa May Alcott, the real-life author the fictional Jo grew up to become, made her name not by startling readers but by moving them with a simple story of four New England sisters and their mother making the best of things in bad times.
True to the 1869 novel, the musical Little Women at Northern Kentucky University succeeds by touching the heart rather than exciting the senses. There are moments of high drama, performed with commitment and energy by this youthful cast. There are enough cues to suggest the Civil War to the eye and many musical flourishes to please the ear. But director Sandra Forman, her design team and this appealing student cast might have done more to capture the texture of Alcott’s family chronicle: the passages of the seasons and years; the subtleties of sisterly relationships; the economic and social strains on the household due to the absence of their an Army chaplain; and the many gradations of affection between Jo and her German mentor, Professor Bhaer. We see only awkwardness, and lots of it. Still, throughout this production we feel the warmth in little things: the reassurance in a mother’s hand, the charm of an unexpected friendship, the joy of playing pretend with willing confederates.
Senior Monica Tenhover makes a bold, boyish Jo, but her voice showed some fatigue by the Oct. 3 matinee, while other singers struggled with balance and intonation. As the girls’ mother, senior Brooke Rucidlo more than carries the show’s weightiest song, “Days of Plenty,” consoling Jo after the loss of her cherished sister. Courageous and, yes, astonishing in its quiet way, it’s a fitting musical climax to this heartfelt American classic.
LITTLE WOMEN, presented by Northern Kentucky University, continues through Oct. 9.