Syracuse Stage offers 'Little Women' for winter holidays

Little Women, the musical stage production based on Louisa May Alcott's enduring novel about the March sisters and their intrepid mother Marmee that has just opened at Syracuse Stage, raises the question of whether there can be too much of a good thing.

There is so much about this production that is good and generous that one feels a tad like Scrooge to mention this at all.

Set in the 1860s at the March's sturdy clapboard home in Concord, Massachusetts -- with brief excursions to New York City, Paris and the Atlantic shore -- Little Women begins in the attic with the oldest daughter Jo (the gifted Sarah Shahinian) rummaging in the four tin keepsake chests that hold mementos of a past shared with her sisters Meg (Mary Kate Morrissey), Beth (Jenaha McLearn) and Amy (Aisling Halpin). Shortly Beth joins Jo -- so powerful are such memories that they can raise those who are lost -- and the two embark on an extended flashback that begins four days before a long-ago Christmas. Having provided the script for a Christmas melodrama -- she plays the dashing hero Rodrigo -- young Jo is whipping her reluctant sisters into shape for rehearsal.

It's war-time and there's barely money for essentials, never mind presents -- which greatly pains Amy. Their father (Joe Whelan) is away in the South with the Union Army serving as a chaplain. A genteel intellectual -- later he remarks about an on-going argument with the philosopher Emerson -- who's preached against slavery for twenty years, he's insisted on going to war over the strenuous objections of his imperious sister, Aunt March (Sandra Karas). It's her project to make young ladies of the March sisters. Their mother Marmee (Marie Kemp, who has indeed mothered the entire production from a 2007 student workshop reading) holds the family together with good-natured patience, the example of good works and forward-looking wisdom. And so the sisters emerge, three to find partners who suit them; considerable time is devoted to how this occurs with each. (Dominique Stasiulis as Laurie and David Studwell as Fritz are especially well cast and excellent.) Beth catches scarlet fever while nursing the sick infant of a poor family and, already frail, dies young -- Jo's first experience with the limits of her own force of will.

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