Review: Little Women in concert, Playhouse Theatre

“Little women grow”

Little Women is one of those enduring classic stories that has continued to resonate with people whether through its published form or on the screen with several fairly well-received televisual and film adaptations. It hasn’t quite managed to make the same leap theatrically though, numerous stage treatments have tried and there’s at least two musical versions – one of which played at the LOST Theatre just last year – to which can be added one more, this time by Steven Luke Walker. Walker chose to showcase his adaptation through the medium of the Sunday evening concert, taking advantage both of the empty Playhouse Theatre and the free nights of many a West End performer to put on something of an all-star show.

Louisa May Alcott’s tale of the lives and loves of four New England sisters may be set during the American Civil War, but there’s a homespun simplicity to their overlapping stories which remain firmly in the personal sphere. Walker’s music has perhaps a more contemporary feel than one might have expected but it attempts to evoke the right spirit across a number of genres. In some cases, he has hit the nail on the head with twinkling gems like ‘First Impressions’, Helena Blackman delivering comedy perfectly, and the soaring duet between Sarah Lark and Nikki Davis-Jones, both in gorgeous form. Elsewhere though, other songs felt like they needed to be much more tightly focused, Walker indulging in a few too many purely decorative vocal riffs and frequently allowing songs to drag on a little too long. Overall though, I found Walker’s music rather agreeable and most aptly for a show about sisterhood, he is most adept at writing beautifully for multiple voices.

This kind of concert set-up has been used many times before but needs a little careful work to ensure that it is effective. There’s no doubting Mark Shenton’s lasting commitment to new musical theatre but employing him as the narrator-of-sorts wasn’t an entirely successful move, especially contrasted to the vivacity and humour that say, Sandi Toksvig brought to her similar role in Soho Cinders. And the structuring of the show feels a little off in its current state, the first half is considerably too long and any tinkering or cutting will need to take into account the musical balance of the show.

But an interesting evening to be sure, and one which shows much promise. For Walker as an upcoming musical theatre writer to watch, for Little Women which shows signs of developing into a potentially strong show, and for the invaluable sense of community that events like these proudly show off, as evidenced by the quality and commitment of the cast, creative and audience coming together  in such a way on a random Sunday night, to support each other and the nominated charity for the evening, Gingerbread.

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