'Little Women' offers holiday warmth

Though not technically a Christmas story, Spreckels Theatre Company’s Little Women, running through Dec. 17, generously bestows all the warmth, holiday spirit and gentle, good feeling one could desire from a more specifically Christmas tale. And for what it’s worth, the story does start out at Christmastime.

The 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott detailing the lives of a poor but loving New England family during and after the Civil War has been adapted numerous times over the last century and a half. To date, the loving, squabbling, inventive, delightful and enduring March sisters and their colorful extended family have appeared six times in motion pictures. The first two were silent films; the most recent one, in 1994, starred Petaluma’s Winona Ryder. Over the decades, Little Women has been turned into four television series, including shows in England and Japan (one, an anime series), and has been turned into numerous stage dramas, one recent opera adaptation and a Tony-winning Broadway musical.

The musical is currently onstage at Spreckels. Written by Allan Knee, Mindi Dickstein and Jason Howard, it had its Broadway debut in 2005, and was previously staged in Spreckels’ small Bette Condiotti Experimental Theatre in 2015. For those who recall that production fondly, the new production features a few of the same supporting performers. But under the direction of Michael Ross, with a mostly new cast, including the marvelous Sarah Wintermeyer as Jo March, this one frequently feels like a whole new show.

As Jo, the impulsive and somewhat selfish narrator of the tale, Wintermeyer (resembling a young Tina Fey at times) is in remarkably fine voice, is often funny, and is truly heartbreaking on occasion.

Other acting and singing highlights in a show full of strong performance are Madison Scarborough as the selfless, doomed Amy March; Eileen Morris as Marmee, the girls’ patient and unflappable mother; Albert McLeod as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, the next-door neighbor who takes a disastrously unrequited shine to Jo; and Sean O’Brien as Professor Bhaer, the boarding house teacher who acts as the grownup to Jo’s literary Jiminy Cricket.

Special kudos to musical director Lucas Sherman, whose stripped-down piano, cello and violin orchestra brings this sweet, heart-lifting tearjerker of a musical to lush and lovely—and appropriately Christmas-y—life.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½

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