Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Flint Youth Theatre has long been defined by excellence. Audiences know that FYT productions will be educational, inspirational, and memorable. However, Friday this troupe went over and above their best with a brilliant production of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women.
This Marsha Chamberlain adaptation focuses on the time that the four March girls and their mother must hold down the home front while their father is away fighting in the Civil War. They are all valiant in their own way but also very different personalities.
Most independent and perhaps strongest is Jo, played with spunk and enthusiasm by Alyssa Banister. Assumed to be the author, this character is the clear center of the family and Banister delivers her with stunning poise.
Older sister Meg is genteel, sensible and portrayed with elegance and emotive depth by Destiny Dunn. Her strength comes through in her carriage and focus as she maintains her position as eldest in spite of Bannister’s bombast and determination.
Syd Brown brings the quiet and shy Beth to life with her sweet disposition and her love of music. Never bold and often seeming slightly anxious, Brown carries this character’s devotion to home and family clearly to the surface.
As the youngest, Macy Scot Mortimer’s impatient and sometimes selfish Amy nearly rivals Banister’s Jo in her drive to be recognized and appreciated. She is everyone’s bratty little sister one minute and the contrite and adorable penitent the next.
As their mother, Marmee, Beth Guest is strong and resilient. Her position as now head of the household is clear and her maternal attention to her girls is inspiring. She brings out the best in each of them with her calm and consistent integrity.
As the men in their lives, David A. Guster shines as Laurie, the boy next door who dotes on Jo, and Philip Kautz, plays Brooke, who as Laurie’s tutor is properly reserved but decidedly intrigued with Meg. We enjoyed the near cameo performances of Michael Gillespie as the rich and benevolent neighbor Mr. Laurence, and Jesse Glenn as Mr. March who returns battered but strong from the front.
Directed by UM-F theatre Professor Emerita Carolyn Gillespie, the overall level of performance here, and the impeccable characterizations created completely surpass expectations. There is not a single weak performance including the small roles of Hannah (Shannon Olsen), the cheery housekeeper and the opinionated Aunt March (Deirdre S. Baker).
Set in the March household, Lisa Borton’s design is wonderfully versatile. Three entrances (two are aisles) plus Jo’s attic writing room with its lovely staircase and lower hideaway make for easy and fluid movement. The fireplace occupies one corner and the flame effect is special. The dining table is central and serves to delineate the passage of time with the constantly changing centerpieces placed there.
Costumes are superb as designed by Katherine Nelson. Pay special note to the versatility of Jo’s costume and to the huge effect simple additions often make to the others. They are all wonderfully detailed and vintage correct.
Oh, there’s more – there’s music and singing (Gary King is behind the scenes, but his piano permeates); there’s pain and sorrow and loss; and above all, there’s joy and fun and laughter.
Take your daughters especially to this one, but the boys will love it, too. Just don’t miss it. It ranks right up there as one of the best we’ve ever seen at FYT.
Little Women continues through October 25 with both evening and daytime performances. For more information, tickets and time schedules call 810-237-1530 or access theFYT.org.