By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
There is nothing little about the actors playing in the musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Civil War era novel, “Little Women” now on stage at Laguna Beach High School’s Artists’ Theater. With a deep reservoir of vocal talent, the cast brings to life the angst and joys of coming of age with soaring melodies and numerous, gorgeous solos.
In her leading role as Jo, Clair Howell fully embodies a young woman bursting with life, who thumbs her nose at her society’s constrained notions of appropriate behaviors and life paths for women. Refusing to let go of her dream of becoming a writer, Howell leaves the audience breathless after her blazing rendition of “Astonishing.” Howell’s boldly confident Jo jumps upon a trunk and fills the theater with her passion and soaring operatics, singing, “I may be small but I have giant plans to blaze as brightly as the sun.”
Only recently did Howell discover her stunning vocal abilities, saying that embracing her gift “helps me express things in ways I would never be able to otherwise.”
As her sisters’ dreams take shape – a piano for sickly Beth (Ellie Glade), husbands for shy, elegant Meg (Marlena Becker) and buoyant Amy (Tessa Mansour), Howell’s Jo remains infatuated with words. But gradually the chemistry between this force of nature in a girl’s body, and the initially aloof Professor Bhaer, played smoothly by Zane Fair, builds into a spirited relationship – on stage as well as off.
With soothing, soulful vocals, the long suffering but resolute Marmee (Tatum Moore), guides her daughters with tenderness and wisdom as they face, jealously, loss and war. Playing prissy and proper Aunt March to the hilt, Anya Gourley never fails to make the audience chuckle whenever she takes the stage.
Matching Jo’s exuberance, Laurie’s dance moves performed by Connor McCombs are as clean and precise as his vocals. Even the grouchy Mr. Laurence, played with aplomb by Noah Pattillo, and the quiet, reserved Mr. Brooke, played by Traer Freeman, blossom in the light of love exuded by the March family. Audiences, too, will leave the performances feeling that the key to overcoming life’s challenges and to living lives with meaning is love.
The show is superbly directed by Karen Culliver, well know in Broadway circles for her portrayal of Christine in the “Phantom of the Opera.” Remaining performances of Little Women will be staged on Nov. 16and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and during a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Nov. 24. With the high school flush with talent, drama instructor, Mark Dressler decided to stage two American classics simultaneously. “Arsenic and Old Lace,” described as the perfect comedy, takes the stage on opposing nights: Nov. 15, 21and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and at a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Nov. 17.
Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for adults and $20 for premium seats, and are available at the box office in front of the theater Monday-Thursday, 4-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4-7:30 p.m. and for Sunday matinees, at 12-2:30 p.m. or by calling 949-497-7769.