An evening of delightful entertainment by the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.

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Just as the Civil War plunged our nation into a heart of darkness and uncertainty, the present day challenges the human spirit. Then as now, people have always found a way through their deepest valleys. In 1869, a few years after that war, novelist Louisa May Alcott wrote a semi-autobiographical — and feminist-themed — novel about the March family of Concord, Massachusetts, and in 2005 lyricist Mindi Dickstein, musician Jason Howland, and musical book writer Allan Knee created Little Women: the Broadway Musical, which was magically produced into an evening of delightful entertainment by the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.

Directors Alvin Mayes and Scot Reese harnessed the talents of outstanding players such as Jordan Embrack (who played Margaret “Marmee” March), Anton Van De Motter (Laurie Laurence), and Leilani Clendenin (Jo March) to bring forth an emotionally upbeat musical to the audience. The directors also brought topical subtext to the show with non-traditional casting of some of the actors. Marci Shegogue, musical director, and Matré Grant, associate musical director, gave the show the musical backbone on which the actors’ singing performances grew.

The March sisters — Amelia Yasuda (Beth), Karenna Foley (Amy), Leilani Clendenin (Jo), and Carolina Tomasi (Meg) in ‘Little Women: the Broadway Musical.’ Photo by David Andrews.The show followed the adventures and misadventures of one Jo March, who wanted to write and publish stories with “violence and seduction on every page!” Played with panache by Clendenin, Jo would get her sisters to act out her stories in the March family living room.

Embrack excellently played matriarch Marmee March, waiting for the return of her Union Army Chaplain husband, with a loving authority. Carolina Tomasi’s Meg March was ready to travel the traditional path of marriage and love. The fantastic Amelia Yasuda made Beth March a voice of reason, and the talented Karenna Foley brought the necessary brattiness to little sister Amy March, who hated Jo’s stories enough to burn one of them.


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To that mix was added the relative Aunt March, portrayed with sternness by Allyson Sweiderk; suitors to the March women were Laurie Laurence (the comical and curly-haired Van De Motter), Mr. Brooke (Marcus Campbell), and Professor Bhaer (the wonderful Jake Schwartz). Evan Thanicatt (Mr. Laurence) and Katie Rees (Mrs. Kirk) completed the cast.

The word dazzling comes to mind when I think of the musical numbers. “Our Finest Dreams” was sung with a hint of Christmas cheer by Yesuda, Clendenin, Foley, and Tomasi.

I enjoyed the lovelorness of Embrack’s “Here Alone.” My foot tapped rhythmically to “Delighted” sung by Embrack, Yasuda, Clendenin, and Tomasi.

Not to be confused with a song by 70s pop group ABBA, the uptempo number “Take a Chance on Me” was brought to life by Van De Motter. “Off to Massachusetts” featured the delightful dueting of Yasuda and Thanicatt.

The title of the musical number “Astonishing” contains the adjective I need to describe it, as it was gorgeously sung in a heartfelt solo by Clendenin to close out the first act.

Leilani Clendenin as Jo March in ‘Little Women: the Broadway Musical.’ Photo by David Andrews.The company gloriously opened the second act with “The Weekly Volcano Press.” Schwartz brought strong vocals to “How I Am.” I could feel the love in “The Most Amazing Thing” by lovebirds Laurie and Amy with vocals by Foley and Van De Motter.

One of the finer solos was Clendenin’s “The Fire Within Me,” which displayed a feminist determination to succeed; and I was moved by her and Schwartz’s duet, “Small Umbrella in the Rain.”

Costume Designer Ashlynne Ludwig more than earned her keep with the Union Army uniform she put Campbell in, and the ball gowns she put Clendenin and Yasuda in. I loved how Lighting Designer Michael Winston spotlighted actors such as Embrack as they sang their solos, and Sound Designer Sam Crawford worked magic with the ocean sounds of the beaches of Cape Cod.

Relying on scrims and flown set pieces, Scenic Designer Sarah Beth Hall’s scenic design evoked the Civil War era through oversized wallpaper patterns and a large floral-patterned upstage set piece. Wooden beams — both arched and straight — suggested the March house’s structure. Of the props, I liked the old cast-iron stove, which sat near center stage, and Jo’s upstage-left stand-up writing desk, complete with quill pen.

With young stars like Van De Motter, Embrack, and Tomasi and direction by Mayes and Reese, this show will leave audiences smiling and — at least for two hours and 30 minutes — make audiences forget the turmoil of these days.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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Little Women: the Broadway Musical plays from October 28 through 31, 2021, in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Kay Theatre at the University of Maryland, 8270 Alumni Dr, College Park, MD 20742. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.

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CREDITS

Little Women: the Broadway MusicalBook by Allan KneeLyrics by Mindi DicksteinMusic by Jason HowlandBased on the novel by Louisa May Alcott

Directors: Alvin Mayes and Scot ReeseMusical Director: Marci ShegogueScenic Designer: Sarah Beth HallCostume Designer: Ashlynne LudwigLighting Designer: Michael WinstonSound Designer: Sam CrawfordStage Manager: Keta NewbornFight Captain: Kiefer Cure

CASTMr. Brooke: Marcus CampbellJo March: Leilani ClendeninMarmee March: Jordan EmbrackAmy March: Karenna FoleyMrs. Kirk: Katie ReesProfessor Bhaer: Jake SchwartzAunt March: Allyson SweiderkMr. Laurence: Evan ThanicattMeg March: Carolina TomasiLaurie Laurence: Anton Van De MotterBeth March: Amelia Yasuda

UNDERSTUDIESAunt March, Mrs. Kirk: Taryn CaroneMr. Laurence: Kiefer CureProfessor Bhaer: Robert DuncanMarmee March: Kayleigh GallagherMr. Brooke: Sam IntraterAmy March: Grace GuzmanBeth March: Annabel LeeJo March: Katie ReesLaurie Laurence: Davis StackMeg March: Allyson Sweiderk

ASSISTANT DIRECTORS, DESIGNERS, AND STAGE MANAGERSAssistant Directors: Virginia Coldren and Abigail LandesmanAssociate Musical Director: Matré GrantAssistant Costume Designers: Layali Aljirafi, Fionna Clark, Cody Von RudenAssociate Lighting Designer: Eric PitneyAssistant Lighting Designer: Jisu Han, Christina SmithAssistant Stage Managers: Matt Haggerty, Jillian Harvey

PRODUCTION STAFF

COSTUMESDrapers: Lisa Parkel Burgess, Susan Chiang, Tessa Lew, Steven SimonFirst Hand: Amy Vander StaayWardrobe Crew Head: Macaley FieldsGraduate Assistants: Clare Lillig, Connor LockeStitchers: Katy Cawley, Leilani Clendenin, Ariella Cohn, Robbi Duncan, Jade Hull, Annabel Lee, Mel Mader, Nicholas McQuain, Lisa Myerovich, Nicole Panebianco, Katie Rees, Celia Richardson, Tien Tran, Amelia Yasuda

TECHNOLOGYTechnology Graduate Assistants: Christian Henrriquez, Christina SmithLighting Supervisors: Malory Hartman, Cassaundra Saulski, Cameron SmithElectricians: Samuel Biuk, Matt Brehm, Grant Hill, Jonah Pereyra, Zachary Rupp, Miguel Sarmiento, Erin Taylor, Lelia Vetter, Hanna ZakharenkoProduction Technology Student Crew: Max Abramovitz, Taryn Carone, Alie Karambash, Elizabeth Raney, Evan Thanicatt

PAINTSScenic Artists: Andrea Ball, Kristin Brain-Tanman, Bobbie Carter Dewhurst, Sarah Beth Hall, James Raymond, Stephanie WarringtonStudent Scenic Painters: Isabella Benning, Josie Danckaert, Nicole Panebianco, Kira Peck, Jalen Wilhite

SHOW CREWDressers: Viola Costen, Nicholas Lee McQuain, Kiana Malak Motiei, Mirsa Oporta HernandezLight Board Operator: Tien TranAudio Engineer: Emily PanAudio Technician: Madeline ReddingFollow Spots: Nelson Chen, Alana IsaacRun Crew: Jade Hull, Logan Stevens