If you knew me when I was 19, you would often catch me quoting Louisa May Alcott in every conversation and running through the grass with the same frivolity as Jo March. Is her work my feminist gospel? No. Do I think she’s the most radical author out there? Also, no. But I discovered her writing in the peak of COVID isolation — brewing the sweetest tea, reviving what was left of my plants, and highlighting every sentence about loneliness that spoke to me. Her work speaks to me and my faulty treadings in the world as an only child, embracing sisterhood in unconventional ways as I watch the tale of March women unfold.
MUSE’s Little Women did all the musical justice to Alcott’s words. The show starts off with a rather dejected Jo March (played by Eden Borrie), agonising over her 22nd rejection from a publisher ever since she came to New York. The next scene then transports us to Concord, Massachusetts in the humble yet comforting abode of the Marches.
Jo’s fiery and free-spirited storytelling affinities start in her life in Concord where she lives with her substantially distinct but dynamic sisters. Their gusto and characters are played inexplicably by the actors: Holly Miller serenades with the same sweetness and wiseness of Beth March, Lucy O’Brien conducts herself with the same poise and ambitions as Amy and Scarlett Pearce exudes all the happy-go-lucky and loyal characteristics of Meg.
The musical timing was in perfect sync with the narratives, especially as Jo reads her gory story about monsters and guts, and the swings break into an effortless rendition of the mythical picture created by Jo. I was fairly afraid that the musical structure would take away the literary novelty of the show, but it actually did the opposite. The audience was enthralled by the numbers and engaged in their comical abilities, especially when Pearce broke into singing “delighted?” as a form of disagreement with Marmee March (played by Isabelle Venice) who said that the girls need to express delight in meeting men.
Another thing that made the show a punchy affair was the way it was comfortable in showcasing slightly eccentric yet kind male characters who are called out for their foolishness. Branden Langley, who plays Laurie Laurence, treads with a natural clumsiness and innocence of Laurie. His boyishness is a refreshing arc that makes everyone chuckle from time to time and adds to the boisterous equation of the Marches. Jason Lin’s portrayal of Mr. Laurence plays a rather small but significant role in the way it builds towards the tragedy of Beth and around the importance of kindness, kinship, and family in hard times.
The show, like all productions, has certain pitfalls. It was quite discomforting to see all March sisters be archetypical white, thin, and blonde women with people who did not fit the stereotype playing either a motherly or side-characterised role. My friend said after the show: theatre is inextricably a white space and changing this requires an effort to diversify cliche Western writing. Further, I was waiting for the iconic Jo March line: “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts” which wasn’t really included, but that’s on me because the show is inalienable to my reading of the text.
In all, the show is an extraordinary watch. The production, music directors, and stage directors have created a world with a skill that has added a rhythmic flow to my experiences of womanhood. In this dreary world full of ingratitude, I am reminded that we indeed do have each other – our own community of March sisters.
Muse’s Little Women will be performing at the ARA Darling Quarter Theatre until the 2nd of September.