‘Little Women: The Musical’ comes to The Hayes

‘Little Women: The Musical’ comes to The Hayes
Image: LITTLE WOMEN THE MUSICAL at The Hayes Theatre. Image: hero

It has been in perpetual re-print since it was first published in 1868 and, together with its sequel, Good Wives (1869), Little Women has informed the hearts and imaginations not only of myriad readers but also creators. Louisa May Alcott’s simple, authentic story has been adapted for stage, film and television and in 2005, it saw its inevitable iteration as a musical. 

The Hayes Theatre, Sydney’s leading exponent of musical theatre, and Josh Robson Productions will premier a mounting of Little Women the Musical this month, with a stellar cast and whole new visualisation. 

Little Women the Musical was written by an award-winning creative trio: book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. It distils the essence of Alcott’s charming tale of a family growing up in Massachusetts during the American Civil War. 

Original inside cover of LITTLE WOMEN, 1868. Image: Library of Congress.

“It’s definitely like a highlights reel, because the musical is both Little Women and Good Wives, the first two in the series, put together,” explains Shannen Alyce Quan who plays the central role of Jo March in the musical. Quan first read Little Women when they were 15, and then again just prior to commencing rehearsals for the Hayes production. They found it still resonated with them, as it seems to have done with other cast members in the show. 

“I think there’s a timelessness to all of the lessons that the March girls learn throughout it, and also in the way that Louisa May Alcott has painted all these people as being three-dimensional and flawed, you know, not the perfect version of the perfect woman,” says Quan. “I think for Jo specifically, I think the fact that she rebels so much against the expectations that society puts on her…that resonates with me and that resonates with a lot of people.”

Shannen Alyce Quan plays Jo March in LITTLE WOMEN at The Hayes Theatre. Photo: Grant Leslie

Alcott’s novel is based on her own family and life, with Jo often being considered an avatar for Alcott. The fictional March family consists of matriarch, Marmee, and sisters (in order of age) Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Their father, a minister, is away serving as a chaplain in the Union army. 

The plot has a broad arc made up of episodes and events, some of which have become iconic through parody. Interwoven into the narrative are recreations of short adventure stories created by Jo, who is an aspiring writer.

The musical version features all the significant events, either performed or referred to. It gives particular focus to Jo, but also shines a light on Marmee, a strong independent woman raising four daughters effectively on her own. 

Howland’s music is classic musical theatre, underscoring emotional dynamics, while Dickstein’s lyrics help condense the text while still delivering all the essential points. 

Louisa May Alcott, circa 1870. Image: Warrens Portraits, Boston via Wikipedia

“I think the music does really well to expand upon the personalities of the characters, which I think is really helpful […] you get to learn more through the music.”

It’s a range of musical numbers that includes harmonic ensembles, big soaring ballads and quirky duets. Director and choreographer, Amy Campbell has added interesting touches, too, combining traditional and contemporary dance. Elements of operetta are employed to give Jo’s heroic, blood and guts stories a feel of fantasy and melodrama. 

While the set and costumes are based on conventional concepts, there are lots of surprises and easter eggs that should delight audiences. 

“I think it will be a Little Women that no one has ever seen before,” says Quan, without giving away any spoilers. “I think it will be exciting for people to be surprised when they enter the space, and hopefully they are open to come on this journey with us — even when they walk into a space that might not be what they expect to walk into for this story.”

July 12 – August 11
Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point


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