The idea of making a Broadway musical out of Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century novel, "Little Women," seems at first glance about as plausible as doing a musical version of "Moby Dick," "The Last of the Mohicans" or "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" — wait, hold that thought, the story of Huck Finn has already played Broadway as "Big River."
The Broadway musical version of "Little Women" didn’t make the same splash as "Big River," but with Punahou senior Brittany Browning starring as Jo March, Diamond Head Theatre’s Hawaii-premiere production is a "don’t miss" show. Browning and the talented cast around her bring the story to life with a vividness that will reward the adventurous souls who take a chance on it.
‘LITTLE WOMEN – THE MUSICAL’
» Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 19
» Cost: $12-$42
» Info: 733-0274 or www.diamondheadtheatre.com
Browning, memorable as Kim in "Miss Saigon" at Paliku Theatre two years ago, brings a big, glorious voice, commanding stage presence and winning smile to her performance as Jo — the second oldest of the four sisters and the most unconventional. Jo wants to be an author; she entertains her sisters with tales of romantic heroines, dastardly villains and swashbuckling heroes. When the family can’t afford a Christmas tree, she cuts down a tree in her wealthy neighbor’s yard.
Browning has several big musical numbers, touching comic scenes with Daniel James Kunkel (Professor Bhaer) and Miles Wesley (Laurie Laurence), and a couple of pivotal dramatic moments. She nails all of them.
Lydia Pusateri (Meg), Meilan Akaka (Beth) and Elise Levin (Amy) are well-cast as her sisters. Akaka is charming as the sweet and sensitive third sister, and Levin is appropriately off-putting as the youngest and most self-centered. All three have memorable scenes and strong musical numbers.
The story is timeless. Jo and her sisters struggle with sibling rivalry, the desire for popularity, the search for self-identity, and dealing with the expectations society imposes on girls as they become women. The girls also suffer the deprivations of genteel poverty while their father is away at war.
Mary Hicks (Marmee) has the physical stature required to register visually as the girls’ mother; given that Hicks played a valkyrie in Hawaii Opera Theatre’s spring production of "Die Walkuerie," it is no surprise her big numbers — "Here Alone" and "Days of Plenty" — are emotional highlights.
Terri Large Madden (Aunt March) is another asset with her portrayal of the March girls’ wealthy and domineering aunt. Madden was delightful playing a similar character type in DHT’s 2007 production of "Gigi." She is delightful here as well.
Multitalented Daniel James Kunkel is a natural as the expatriate German professor Jo meets in New York. Put off at first by his formal manner, and the fact that he is 34 and she’s 18, she gradually finds him a kindred spirit. Gerald Altwies (Mr. Laurence) is perfect as the gruff and wealthy neighbor whose heart is eventually softened by Beth. Miles Wesley earns applause with his commanding portrayal of the wealthy young man who is Jo’s soulmate but ruins their relationship when he kisses her.
Jose Ver (Mr. John Brooke) deftly brings a natural comic feel to his scenes with Pusateri. It isn’t a big role, but he plays it well.