Little Women

Little Women Elder Conservatorium 2024The Broadway Musical. Elder Conservatorium Music Theatre. Scott Theatre. 18 Apr 2024


It is always exciting when the Elder Conservatorium turns on a production.

Therein is arrayed the promise of tomorrow’s big musicals. It’s a showcase of student talent - students who are under rigorous training in the musical stage arts.

The Elder shows have been a treat. Sometimes they are but a bare whisker short of Broadway standards.

Ironically, the latest production bills itself as a "Broadway musical".

Of all things, it is a staged version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women - book by Allam Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein.

It is nice to feel that such a 19th century classic still has cachet with the TikTok era.

Then again, the general adaptation, albeit of the 2000s, feels a bit clunky and many of the songs too formulaic and long.

The one Off to Massachusetts number, sung by Beth and old Mr Lawrence, shines as the only memorable take-away tune.


The story, if one needs reminding, revolves around the March family of Concord, Massachusetts, in the time of the dreadful American Civil War. Father is away serving as a pastor to the troops leaving mother, aka “Marmee”, to raise their four girls in somewhat humble circumstance. Jo, the second daughter and a feisty tomboy, is convinced that her talent for writing gutsy stories will single-handedly relieve the family’s circumstance. She’s chief protagonist, her three sisters, Meg, Amy, and Beth adorning the narrative in the appropriate hierarchy of siblings at their respective ages.


It’s a semi-autobiographical story and the author’s family actually lived there in Concord.


They have interactions good and bad with the rich man over the road and with the rich Aunt March. There are romantic entanglements, loss and sorrow, and in the end, even the will-never-marry writer, Jo, finds love.


All of this is encompassed in the show, but one spends some time puzzling about the way in which this production has made it happen. If one is a stickler for period accuracy, one is hung-up on odd production choices. Yes, Jo is unfeminine, but did any girl wear trousers in 1850s USA? If they did, they were bloomers. So one is arrested with a costume puzzle very early in the show when Jo replaces her full skirt to wear tight trousers at home. 

Thereafter, the costumes continue to be a distraction. Lack of budget is a lacklustre excuse for lack of research. Women of the day wore crinolines and their petticoats, as my companion noted " did not hang out like viscera behind them".


Then there is the lead actor in the role of Jo. There are a host of star students at Elder and alternating casts in the show. Alana Iannace scored the opening performance and demonstrated to the world that she has super powerhouse capabilities. It’s a big voice she has, startlingly strident at times. She is an extremely confident singer. Indeed, Iannace dominates the stage so long as she is upon it. 

It is almost as if she’s starring in a concert. 


The other performers are in her shadow, but each has a chance to rise and show their stuff and each has a great deal to offer. When it comes it delivering an empathetic characterisation, Sophie Volp shines as Marmee. Her well-modulated voice also is a pleasure. Amy McCann is on pitch as lovely Meg, and she really looks the part while Emily Simmons does a fine transition from the kid Amy to the sophisticated lady.  Jelena Nicdao is simpatico as Beth, but this Broadway version of Little Women shortchanges the utter poignancy of her character’s place in the story.


This is a classic women’s narrative but there are some delicious, nay, charming roles for the male performers. Sascha Debney-Matiszik, elegantly flicking his fine locks in the role of  Professor Bhaer, has a touch of the matinee idol to him. Then again, watching Darcy Wain as young Laurie Lawrence, one is sure we will be seeing more of him onstage. He has a bit of the old comic “it”.  Brendan Tomlins does well to melt hearts as not-really-mean old Mr Laurence and, with Jelena Nicdao, he has the best duet in the show with Massachusetts. Tayla Alexander is top notch as odd old Aunt March, Jay Scott is a pleasure to watch and to hear as John Brook with Ava-Rose Askew solid as Mrs Kirk in a company that generally works very well as ensemble. Harmonies are nice. Timing is spot-on. The show races along and there is some sterling talent up there. It does not disappoint.


And, the orchestra, under Martin Cheney and shielded in darkness at the back of the very interesting-looking stage design from Simon Greer, maintains a very fine balance against the singers. High competence with some oddly tricky scores. Composer Jason Howland is no Sondheim.


Erin James’s direction, however, is strangely loose. While the scene-changing business with assorted chair-moving to create beds and pianos etc is pretty slick and one admires those cast members who so swiftly perform the changes, there are a few quaint credulity issues and period clashes distracting from a streamlined entity. 

Then again, it is just a two-night quickie and one should not be too picky.

There’s a fabulous crop of new talent being groomed and seasoned up there onstage and one can only be proud that Adelaide, crucible city of the Australian performing arts, is turning out another crop of future stars.


Samela Harris 


When: 18 to 21 Apr

Where: Scott Theatre