Encore Michigan

Dio’s ‘Little Women’ is delightful comfort for the holiday season

Review November 20, 2022 David Kiley

PINCKNEY, MI–There is excitement around new plays that deal with new issues that are in news headlines and our social media feeds. But there is a different kind of excitement around a show with a story that we know oh-so-well, and still manages to warm our hearts and souls when a theatre cast all the right talented people and delivers a set design for a theatre experience that is pretty near flawless.

That’s what we get when we go to the Dio Dining +Entertainment these days for its production of Little Women, directed by Steve DeBruyne., along with a comfort-food dinner of fried turkey, greenbean casserole, stuffing and a fruit cobbler.

Little Women has been with us for 150 years or so. The coming-of-age and autobiographical novel by Louisa May Alcott–adapted to a musical by Allan Knee, Mindi Dickstein and Jason Howland–centers on the March family of Massachusetts, led by matriarch Marmy (Marlene Inman) and daughters Jo (Anna Dreslinski Cooke), Beth (Anne Koziara) Amy (Maddie Ringvelski) and Meg (Sarah Brown).

Sarah Brown as Meg and Marlene Inman as Marmie

Jo is an aspiring writer in an age when women writers were not taken very seriously. Women were expected to marry well and raise children. Jo’s restlessness is the energy of the story. Not surprisingly, she is also the object of affection of the grandson Laurie (short for Lawrence and played by Tyler J. Messinger)  of the March’s wealthy neighbor Mr. Lawrence (Dan Morrison).

The Dio’s production of the musical does well to bring out the timeless themes of the story that are just as relevant today as they were at the time of The Civil War: family loyalty, love, jealousy and forgiveness; unrequited love as well as requited; unconditional as well as conditional love. Alcott’s writing and storytelling chops were ahead of her time.

The more recently written songs for this classic play are solid, tuneful and a good match for the book: “The Fire Within Me,” sung by Jo; “Here Alone,” sung by Marmie; “The Most Amazing Thing,” sung by Amy and Laurie are standouts.

DeBruyne in his tenth season as Artistic Director/Founder of The Dio, along with his multi-talented partner, Matthew Tomich. They are blessed with having some always-gorgeous voices as part of the company–Marlene Inman and Sarah Brown, both past Wilde Award winners for Best Actress in a Musical–and they are treasures in supporting roles for both their acting and vocal talents. Making debuts at The Dio are Ms. Cooke who not only has a superb singing voice, but lights up the stage in the lead. Ms. Koazaria and Ms. Ringvelski are also making their Dio debuts, and they are pretty close to flawless in their characterizations of the March women. Anne Bauman is also strong in a dual role of Aunt march and Mrs. Kirk.

It’s tough not to see Little Women as a “woman’s play” as they used to refer to them in the days of bustles and hooped skirts. But the male actors in the show acquit themselves very well in their supporting  roles. Mr. Messinger is a font of besotted energy, and has vocal talent that never seems to disappoint in the roles we have seen him in. Sam Wright as Professor Bhaer, Jo’s suitor and benefactor, carries his tunes like a pro and delivers on the shy German immigrant demeanor as written by Alcott. Mr. Morrison, a frequent member of Dio’s ensemble, makes the transition from Mr. Lawrence’s Scrooge-like beginning to the generous, caring elder with aplomb and a nice turn at the piano with Beth singing “Off To Massachusetts.”

Mr. Tomich’ set, as usual, is striking and well-executed. He is not only a superior designer, but his craftsmanship in building his sets places him among one of the best in the state. He has mastered the two-level set design in the Dio space, so the actors inhabit the March house, which feels like a real house, as well as the attic space where we see Jo’s thinking and dreaming place, as well as the the actors acting out a story being told by author Jo.

Costume designer Norma Polk gets all the costuming for the mid 19th century correct, as well as the costumes of the characters acting out Jo’s story. Mr. Morrison, for example, dons a Roman soldier outfit that is of very high quality and comes out of nowhere.

In an age of crypto-currency, virtual reality, divisive politics and inflation, period-plays can struggle to get attention and be taken seriously by many a theatre patron, especially those who never read the original book. But when you look behind what is keeping the March family together–resilience, loyalty and love–it’s exactly what we all need at all times, whether we recognize it or not.

The show runs through December 23, but is mostly sold out. Check with the theatre and if there aren’t seats available, they will put you on a wait-list for cancellations. Go to www.diotheatre.com.

Week of 11/28/2022

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