Monthly Archives: April 2016

Little Women vs Sound of Music

In 2013, I was still at acting school working towards my music theatre degree. One task for the 2000s music unit was to write a comparison between two similar musicals to present in class. Now, sadly I never got to present mine because of time constraints. What better way to rectify this than to edit the essay and post it here?

In 2005 the short-lived musical Little Women opened on Broadway, starring Sutton Foster as Jo March, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. Based on the classic 1869 novel by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women had a huge responsibility bringing one of the most beloved stories of all time to the stage? Did it succeed? Not really. And why does it bear so many striking similarities to the beloved 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music?


Little Women opens as Jo, an ‘impassioned girl of 19,’ receives her twenty-second letter of rejection from a prominent publisher. They tell her that her story is ‘tasteless’, ‘vulgar’ and she is advised to go home and have children, as “All women are made to do,”

This could quite possibly be the most half-hearted attempt to shoehorn in the misogyny of the era that I have ever seen. It’s a single line that’s never brought up again or even necessary to begin with. What did sexism have to do with Little Women in the first place? The answer is very little. In fact, I’m spending more time bitching about it on this blog than the show does. Moving on.
Jo reads her Operatic Tragedy to her mentor Professor Bhaer. Truthfully, her story is tasteless and vulgar. The Professor diplomatically suggests she could do better but like any good protagonist (there may be a hint of sarcasm here) Jo is too in love with her own work to take his advice on board.

And this is where the problems with characterisation starts. You see Jo’s most prominent traits. She’s passionate, opinionated and rather argumentative. And that’s pretty much where the character development stops for Little Women. The audience is only ever show the most basic character traits. Meg is romantic. Jo is passionate. Beth is sweet. Amy is pretentious. Marmee is….the mother. None of the characters are given enough expansion to seem human. They’re just stereotypes, if you could even call it that. Don’t believe me? Take Laurie’s introduction as Exhibit A.

The scene flashes back to two years earlier as Jo prepares her sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy, to perform an operatic tragedy that she has written. Now, I may be thinking too hard about it, but it seems even then, Jo had an unhealthy, almost sinister obsession with blood-and-guts in her stories. If I was a publisher receiving manuscripts like this, I wouldn’t publish them either. I’d be seeking a restraining order.
Anyway, feeling sad that their father is away at war, Jo brazenly decides to steal a Christmas tree from next door…because she claims to be full of energy and needs a task to do. We’re off to a great start here. Your main character steals a Christmas tree for literally no reason whatsoever. Is this a charming character trait or should we be emotionally disturbed?

When the rightful owner of the tree comes to give Jo the verbal bashing she deserves, Jo meets Laurie, her first of two love interests. The following dialogue, I kid you not, is far and away the most jarring introduction to a character ever written in the history of musical theatre.

He loves his trees. I’m Theodore Lawrence the Third. But everyone calls me Laurie. I’ve come to live here. In Concord. I play the piccolo. I can sleep standing up. And I won a medal at school for holding my breath for nearly three minutes before passing out. I think it was terrifically daring of you chopping down grandfather’s tree. Well, goodbye.”


I did NOT just read that.

Call me a serial nitpicker, but this is just straight up badly written.

The whole book is like this. There’s literally never a genuine line of dialogue that doesn’t feel forced, contrived, or simply tell-don’t-show. All the critics generally agreed that the musical was like a speed-read of the novel, having the most obvious emotions and events but without anything that make is feel true or natural. There’s nothing for the audience to connect with. No character apart from Jo is given significant stage time to become anything. I don’t know how actors can work with a script like that. Even a great actress like Sutton Foster would struggle to make this work.
I’m sorry, but I’m struggling to analyse this musical here because there’s little to analyse except how bland it is!!!!


Hades feels my pain

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s continue.

The Sound of Music obviously by Rogers and Hammerstein has obviously had far more success both on stage and screen, but it bears striking similarities to the story of Little Women. To describe the story from The Sound of Music is almost silly. We all know it. We’ve all seen it and we all love it. Both The Sound of Music and Little Women have a passionate young female lead searching for her place in the world. Both are energetic and outspoken protagonists who fall in love with an unlikely suitor. Both focus on a family, both are adapted from books and are both well-loved stories. Both Jo and Maria are beloved characters in the Western world, but why does Maria feel more human to the audience? And her romance, for that matter?

Julie Andrews in "Sound Of Music" - 20th Century Fox - Released March 2, 1965

The most beautiful sound I ever heard….

Maria is a young woman who wants to be a nun, but her free spirit is deemed unsuitable to the role. She is sent to be the governess to the seven Von Trapp children.Their widowed father has forbidden all happiness and music from their lives, but Maria’s enthusiasm and good heart soon wins him over, transforming their lives under the shadow of Nazi Germany. Maria learns that things do not always turn out the way you expect and is asble to accept that her life changes from the direction she believed it was going to take. She does not fight her mistakes. She accepts them, she learns from them and she does all she can to help people change for the better. Jo fights everything to get her way. She refuses to change or see that maybe, just maybe, she’s wrong.
The other characters in the Sound of Music are also far more developed, whether they are leads or supporting cast. Captain Von Trapp, by contrast with Professor Bhaer, is much more sympathetic and relateable. The Captain is given a legitimate backstory about losing his wife and how his grief has caused him to become cold and distant from his children. But through Maria’s influence he is able to change his ways and become a loving father as meaning is brought back into his life.
Professor Bhaer is given no backstory or any distinct objectives thoughout Little Women and he is not very interesting as a result. This doesn’t necessarily make him a bad character, he’s likeable enough but he’s not explored particularly deeply.

Even the side characters in the Sound of Music are more interesting. There are seven children in the family and yet we all remember them because they’re all given distince, memorable personalities. Liesl of course forms the secondary romance with Rolfe, which also does not end in the typical fashion of happily ever after. Rolfe joins the Nazis, and Liesl has to accept that she can’t be with him, which is a far more realistic outcome than Laurie marrying Amy after being rejected by Jo. Even Elsa Schraeder, who very nearly steals the Captain’s heart, is given some very good scenes to work with. She could very easily have been considered an antagonist, but she has an understable motivation for wanting Maria out of the way. But in the end she realises that she was wrong and leaves of her own accord. How often do you see something like that in a love story? EVER?

As for Little Women, in terms of my most hated writing mistake of all, the dreaded tell-don’t-show, this is a script to behold.
In Act 2, after Beth dies, Marmee says to Jo “Nobody did more for Beth than you did!” Great, what exactly did she do for Beth? All we saw or heard of Jo doing was taking Beth to the beach and at the risk of sounding heartless, Beth seems pretty energetic for someone who’s apparently on their deathbed. The same goes for when Professor Bhaer is apparently falling in love with Jo. He is not seen a great deal and his one solo number is him wondering whether he has feelings for her. There is no real feeling of time passing or the characters developing in new ways. And does Jo develop feelings for the Professor herself? It’s insinuated in their final duet, but not explored in the least.

Look, it’s an adaptation of a very famous and dense book. But there’s adapting a novel to the stage and there’s stripping out anything that gave it substance, which is exactly what the creative minds behind Little Women have done. The stage directions are kind of generic, the dialogue is all over the place and it thinks it’s saying a lot more than it actually is.

Oh, and you can forget about character subtlety or underlying themes. At one point Amy burns Jo’s writing out of sheer spite, because she really doesn’t have a motivation or anything like that. You don’t need to wonder what might happen to their relationship as a result, because it’s obvious that Amy burning Jo’s work is going to cause sparks to fly, pun fully and unashamedly intended.
The little substance that desperately tries to appear just gets whacked over your head. Enthusiasm is important! Family is everything! Jo is a total nightmare at times, but it’s ok because she’s PASSIONATE!

The Sound of Music however devotes time for all the subplots to be fully realised. The main story is of course Maria’s journey towards changing the family for the better and finding romance in the end The moments where Little Women somewhat shines are the scenes where the family interacts, much like in the Sound of Music. It seems the strength of Little Women comes more from the cast, and particularly the actress playing Jo whereas the The Sound of Music is so charming and well written it can stand on its own as a wonderful piece of theatre without relying on talented actors to gloss over the flaws in the script.


You can still have incredible actors though 🙂

Another aspect of The Sound of Music which cannot be ignored is the near-perfect score. My Favourite Things, Do-Re-Mi, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria and the title number are just some of the songs that are now standards. There’s no denying that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote a score that was far more memorable and enduring. Little Women’s score screams that it was rushed out. The melodies get the job done, although they aren’t all that phenomenal, just sort of bland and generic and the lyrics were very accurately described by the Broadway critics as “uneven”. Granted, I have heard far worse (Love Never Dies springs to mind), but any line which goes I work and I eat/life is muffins and jam is going to make me snicker. Little Women’s score is pleasant enough but the music has not and will not become ingrained in the world’s mind as The Sound of Music has. Another reason for this is that every song in The Sound of Music fits the narrative and drives the emotion and story. Little Women does not. Take for example the scene where Jo and Meg are going to the ball. The resulting musical number is how to respond if they’re asked to dance.
Yeah, um, what’s the point of that? Does it develop the characters? Does it have any bearing on the story at all? You could sum that up in a few sentences! It doesn’t call for a musical number!


In case you’re wondering, Little Women only ran for 137 performances.

In my opinion, The Sound of Music is the stronger theatrical production overall for several reasons. A stronger protagonist, a more developed cast, a more believable romance and more memorable music.

Little Women‘s failing was in the writing, both script and score, and there was honestly no excuse for this being the case. This isn’t a dumb jukebox musical like Mamma Mia or Moulin Rouge where you shoehorn in every tired cliché known to man. This is a beloved classic story that has meant a lot to five generations of women.
Little Women frustrates me because I KNOW there’s a good musical in there somewhere. It had so much potential with more guided adaptation and dramaturgy. The music could have been something very special if there was more time and effort put into it. It could have been so much more.

Maybe one day Little Women can be given the theatrical treatment it deserves. But if you’re looking for a classic story of family, love and courage done right, I’ll point to The Sound of Music every single time.

Batman vs. Superman

Critics hate it. Audiences love it. Apparently.

The Internet has gone insane with this movie. It’s practically polarised everyone. Everytime I go on Facebook, somebody is guaranteed to be talking about it. Mostly about how much they hate it. To be honest, most people were twitching in terror as soon as the movie was announced, and even more so when Ben Affleck was cast.
Now that the movie is out and I’ve gone to see it with an open mind…we have a VERY mixed bag here. This is no Dark Knight. But we aren’t in Batman and Robin territory either.


No, no! Get it out of my sight!

And I have to say, I wasn’t overly thrilled with the idea of Batman vs Superman. Batman and Superman are about as polar opposites as you can get, but I wasn’t making up my mind before I saw the film.

bad idea.jpg

Was this ever going to end well?

Look, I love Batman like everyone else. He’s the one superhero you could actually be…if you had a billionaire bank account and access to incredible gadgets. Batman is dark, brooding and uses fear to his advantage. He made an active choice to fight crime and trained to get the skills necessary. And he has easily the greatest rogues gallery in the comic world.


Yeah, I said it. Come at me, fanboys!

Pitching these two against each other just seems so….pointless. It’s like putting Donald Trump and Kanye West in the same room and making them debate each other on who was best. What you’ll get is a duel of egos which is entertaining for about ten minutes but gets incredibly old incredibly fast.

Superman is the big blue Boy Scout. He’s usually portrayed in a very bright manner. His weakness is Kryptonite but he’s also meant to be invulnerable. He’s so powerful, the villains need to be almost indestructable just to make it interesting.
Bringing such a contrast to Batman probably wasn’t the smartest move, especially after the fail that was Man of Steel. Some things just don’t need a gritty reboot.


To be fair, he has solved his underwear confusion.

I don’t despise Batman vs. Superman and I don’t think the idea of superhero team ups is inherently bad either. The casting is good, and it’s nice to look at. Jesse Eisenberg was having a great time as Lex Luthor in a very different and surprisingly effective take on the role. Casting, visuals and acting wasn’t the problem here.

The problem with the movie is that the pacing is lacking (to say the least) and they try to do too much at the expense of the story and characters. So many plot points are shoehorned in it makes the head spin. The movie has no idea what the focus is. Is it about Superman’s struggle with responsibility? His relationship with Lois Lane? Batman’s double life? His vigilantism? Paranoia? That not-so-discreet reference to Citizen Kane in the opening?


I think The Simpsons were more subtle about the homage…

The sheer amount of story being thrown at you is insane and there’s little time to develop anything. What was the point of Wonder Woman? You could have taken her out and missed nothing. That huge ending fight could have been cut by about 15 minutes. Alfred barely featured at all. What did Zod have to do with anything?
And for the love of all that’s good and holy, can someone PLEASE give Lois Lane some personality? And Superman too while you’re at it? Henry Cavill is a good choice for Superman and Amy Adams is a fine actress in general. Give them something to work with. Give them chemistry. Make us care. Give them an identity.
Batman vs. Superman was so focused on being huge and epic it forgot to be a movie. I went in hoping to see a decent action flick and instead got a potpourri of incoherency with a few good scenes. The action scenes may have been good, but we need to like the characters. Show more of Batman’s struggle. Show us how dedicated he is to cleaning up Gotham. Show Superman’s compassion, show him speaking to Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude.
Don’t make these two heroes fight. Make them work together. That would be fine. Its worked incredibly well on the animated series. But having them square off against each other for pretty much no reason was not what we had in mind.
If you’re disappointed by what you saw, I highly recommend the animated series from the 90s. There were several crossover episodes which showed a far better dynamic and character development, and they weren’t condescending in the least.


All credit to Doug Walker aka The Nostalgia Critic

I’d love to see a Justice League movie. I’m all DC. Marvel is good, but it’s not Batman. Warner Bros, if you’re going to do Justice League, it needs serious work. Go back and look at the comics and see why people love these characters. Have fun. Be true to the stories and personalities. Superheroes are far more than just punching things. I just hope you think of that instead of desperately trying to beat what Marvel has done.