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THEATER REVIEW: Moonlight's “Little Women: The Musical” is endearing

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 1991

Jo March (Hilary Maiberger) may not have made history – but she wanted to, and was definitely not well-behaved, especially not for her time (immediately post-Civil War).

Jo, by far the most appealing character in Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women,” dresses like a tomboy, writes “blood and guts” stories, dreams of world travel and making her mark in the literary world. Marriage and family are not on her radar.

The musical version of “Little Women” (which played on Broadway seven years ago) takes the Avo Playhouse stage through March 11, under the direction of Moonlight Productions’ outgoing artistic director Kathy Brombacher.

Jo lives with her mother Marmee (Susan Stuber) and three sisters: serious Meg (Alexis Grenier), sweet Beth (Sarah Errington) and petulant Amy (Leslie Tammone). Their father is in Washington, D.C. serving as a chaplain in the Union army. And Aunt March (Susan E.V. Boland), the wealth in the family, is around to try to teach the irrepressible Jo how to be a lady.

Next door live sour old Mr. Laurence (local theater icon Don Ward) and his son Laurie (Jacob Haren).

This adaptation is mostly about the talented and persistent Jo, secondarily about the quartet of sisters, their squabbles (including the famous manuscript-burning scene) and their various beaus.

Jo is such a fiery character, it’s a pity the score (music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein) doesn’t reflect that. Much of it is rather tepid, pleasant but forgettable, despite the terrific interpretation given it by the singers, conductor Terry O’Donnell and his talented six-person orchestra.

Maiberger is a wonder as Jo, with a fine strong voice and independent spirit.

Errington is suitably sweet as the ill-fated Beth. Tammone and Haren score with their second-act love duet “The Most Amazing Thing.”

Ward is excellent as the gruff Mr. Laurence, even demonstrating fine musical fettle on “Off to Massachusetts.”

The show offers high production values, including N. Dixon Fish’s fine duel-level set, where the characters can enact Jo’s stories. First-rate sound and lighting by Chris Luessmann and Curtis Mueller, respectively, and Carlotta Malone’s appropriate costumes all contribute.

This “Little Women” is a lovely production deserving of a better musical score.

The details

“Little Women: The Musical” plays through March 11 at the Avo Playhouse, 300 Main St., Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (760) 724-2110 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.