Little Women
The March sisters sing their way through adolescence. (Miray Eroglu / McGill Tribune)

Little Women grow up from the page to the stage

a/Arts & Entertainment/Theatre by

Little Women, Opera McGill’s first production of the season, is based on the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott, as well as the opera written and composed by Mark Adamo in 1998. Set in Massachusetts in the 1860s, Little Women is brought to the stage in a way that celebrates the classic and revives it for a modern audience, bringing to stage the nature of family ties and the cycle of life. 

The opera takes audience members on a journey through the lives of the four March sisters, Meg (Simone McIntosh), Jo (Kaylee Gallagher), Beth (Chelsea Rus), and Amy (Lauren Woods), moving across happy and sad times in their life as seen through the eyes of Jo. Jo alternates between the life she could have had, and the life she ultimately chose to lead, constantly yearning to bring back the times when the family was all together.

The set captures the March family home, and the costumes are reflective of the time period. The show opens with Jo writing, while Amy works on a painting; these acts are reflective of each sister’s respective hobby, and what they ultimately do in life.

The opera revolves around the blossoming of Jo and Laurie’s (Torrence Grick) friendship throughout the years, ultimately telling a story about Jo’s coming of age. Jo takes the audience back in time with Laurie’s arrival as their new neighbor. Laurie becomes friends quickly with the March sisters, and as they grow up, Laurie falls in love with Jo and hopes for more than just friendship; however, his longing for Jo blinds him from the affection he receives from other people. Gricks captures Laurie’s devotion to Jo extremely well, however, it would have added more to his overall performance had Gricks further developed Laurie’s strength of character, not just his role as Jo’s love interest.

The talented cast of Little Women features Bruno Roy, one of eight finalists from across Canada who will compete in the final round of the Canadian Opera Company (COC), as Brooke—Laurie’s tutor and Meg’s husband. Gallagher gives a stellar performance, playing Jo—the most ambitious of the four sisters—with ease, giving a voice to both the trials and successes of herself and her sisters. McIntosh provides a contrast to Jo’s independent character and personifies Meg’s conflicting responsibilities towards her family and the man she loves in a standout aria “Things Change, Jo.” Rus portrays Beth angelically. Though her character is the most withdrawn of the March sisters, she serves as a strong figure through her devotion to her family. This can be felt in her aria sung on her deathbed, “Have Peace Jo.” At this moment, the audience is given a glimpse into Beth’s character, which Rus personifies well. Woods portrays Amy as the childlike, at times frivolous, youngest March sister, adding comic relief to some of the more serious scenes.

During the rising action of the production, Meg falls in love with Brooke and the March family dynamic dramatically shifts. Jo is caught in between her happiness for her sister and her own sadness that life will not ever be the same again if her sister leaves the family for her husband. Jo realizes her fears are unwarranted, and ultimately comes to terms with the idea that, although life is full of changes, the family bond will always stay the same. The opera is tied together and comes to a riveting ending with its final aria, “Let Me Look At You,” sung by Gallagher, McIntosh, Rus, and Woods, where the four sisters—although no longer all together—reflect on their childhood memories in recognition and celebration of the past and future. In this manner, the opera closes reflecting on the sisters’ gratitude for one another, and how each has matured over the years.

Little Women ultimately focuses on Jo’s memory of the past, and its role in the future—bringing to light how although the past often is reminiscent of fond memories, it is impossible to turn back the clock.

Little Women is showing November 6 to 7 at 7 P.M. and November 8 at 2 P.M. at Pollack Hall, at the Schulich School of Music (555 Rue Sherbrooke). Student tickets cost $17, and general admission costs $28.