Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the infamous tale of sisterhood and love, is a story that is beloved by many across the world. Having been adapted numerous times for the screen and stage, Steven Luke Walker’s musical version has its faults but shows great promise. This concert performance was in aid of Gingerbread, a charity that supports single parent families.
Musically, this is an interesting piece, although quite a few of the songs are unnecessarily long and the first act seems to include some vocal gymnastics that have no bearing on the dramatic intensity of the piece. This often affects Meg, sung beautifully by Gina Beck, who seems to constantly be placed in the upper part of a soprano’s register but throughout the piece I was left wondering if the vocal dexterity required for most roles would be possible for eight shows a week. Having said this, the second act seemed much more rounded, leaving the voices and emotion to shine through some truly lovely melodies. Steven Luke Walker’s great talent seems to lie in his ability to create harmonies that envelop the listener and meld voices beautifully, creating some stunning quartets, trios and duets.
There is great promise in Walker’s version of Little Women. Currently there is a juxtaposition between some less contemporary, dare I say antiquated, sounds and the emotional integrity that comes from the more contemporary sounding songs (which sit better with the piece). There is also a strong note of comedy throughout but this also seems slightly at odds with other moments of overtly high drama. The audience are often shown pieces that sit at opposite ends of the spectrum and this needs to be unified. Walker has the ability to create very funny musical comedy and emotive pieces, but there is a throughline that is needed and can be found.
The casting of the four Little Women was really quite perfect, with Gina Beck as Meg, Nikki Davis-Jones as Jo, Sarah Lark as Beth and Lisa-Anne Wood as Amy. I was particularly struck by Davis-Jones, whose effortless voice (and seemingly endless vocal range) reminded me of a British Stephanie J Bloch. Beautifully supporting the cast (which also included Jon Robyns, Daniel Boys, Shona Lindsay, Norman Bowman and a very comical Helena Blackman) were selected students from the current third year at Guildford School of Acting. Finishing off the evening Maeve Byrne’s solo showcased a strong and commanding belt which makes her one to watch out for in the next few years.
New British musicals are a rarity in the West End and it’s refreshing to see a new composer getting this stage time with such a strong company of performers. There are faults in this production but an ironing-out process could make this a great piece to showcase Walker. He has piqued my interest and I look forward to seeing how this piece develops further.
Little Women the Charity Concert played at the Playhouse Theatre on the 24 June.