I was giving the cast album of Little Women, a show that has not made much of an impact on me in the past, another spin in the CD player recently and was, as ever, frustrated by what Mindi Dickstein and Jason Howland brought to the score of their adaptation of this much-beloved classic. I have a soft spot for the novel and have always thought that the novel had the potential to be a great musical, but this is not it.
During this listen, I wondered what the reviews of the Broadway production were like and found this evaluation of the show in Time. The overall tone of the review is positive, but the piece ends with a decidedly unambiguous slating of the score:
Richard Zoglin wrote:
Though it’s based on a beloved book for young people, Little Women: The Musical is the most adult new musical of the Broadway season and an unexpectedly satisfying meal. Skillfully adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s novel by Allan Knee…. the show is pretty, unpretentious, warmhearted but surprisingly restrained: even the death of Beth, the quiet sister felled by scarlet fever, takes place offstage…. If only the score by Jason Howland had a few decent tunes, Little Women might have been a real banquet.
Calling Little Women the most adult new musical of the season is damning the show with faint praise, considering that the only other new musicals that had opened by the time that Little Women premiered were Dracula and Brooklyn. The truly worthwhile new musicals of that season all opened after that. Of course, Zoglin didn’t have the advantage of knowing that when he wrote his review – but it does make me chuckle to think that his statement in this case really only holds true if you don’t know the context of the season in which Little Women was produced.
Oh well, the novel is in the public domain, so perhaps someone will take another shot at some point. Of that much, Louisa May Alcott’s stories about Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are most certainly worthy…