A scene from the Patio Playhouse production of “Little Women” at the Kit Carson Amphitheatre in Escondido. Photo courtesy Adriana Zuniga-Williams
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Little Women, little theater, big heart

Patio Playhouse’s “Little Women” marked its debut on Aug. 16 at the Kit Carson Amphitheatre with a skunk’s untimely interruption. While the skunk certainly let us know its rather ripe opinion of the show in the middle of the second act, I can confidently say that it was wrong, and that the production was a true delight.

“Little Women” is the story of Jo March, the creatively inclined sibling amongst the four March sisters, who are all growing up without their father in Civil War-era Massachusetts. Jo has big dreams (both figurative and prosaic) that she finds herself tempted to temper so that she can travel abroad with her strict Aunt March. All the while, she and her sisters also discover what it truly means to grow up.

Leading lady Kylee Ogzewalla plays Jo March well as the sharp character she is, quick on the retort and fiery in both temper and passion. As the main character, the March upon whose shoulders the whole play rests, Ogzewalla is the linchpin of the production, and pulls the roll off to a tee; the physicality in her gestures as she describes her stories to her family — while other members of the cast enact her dictation — effectively gives you the sense that she loves what she writes.

But she also loves her sisters, and they love each other. Each actress — Tori Bleher, Olivia Torres and Lilian Broschart — breathes life into their respective March. Meg as the mature, wiser one, Amy as the vindictive sibling who perhaps does the most growing up, and Beth as the sweet sister who finds herself in the most unfair circumstances. The play’s highlight comes when she and Jo fly a kite together. I don’t know how Patio Playhouse managed to pull that trick off, but it was an amazing moment of theatrical illusion (even if I could see another string in the floodlights).

The rest of the cast do sublime as well, often playing multiple parts — the “real” characters and the ones Jo makes up when writing or describing her stories. Kim Moller and Riley Hunsaker sing with tangible emotion, Jeffrey Shev’s Mr. Laurence pulls off kindness and sternness in perfect balance, and Brian P. Evan’s German accent underscores the emotional vulnerabilities of his intellectual character.

The use of a live orchestra conducted by Erika R. Gamez is a pleasant surprise, giving a genuine cinematic quality to the show that would have been lost with, say, pre-recorded music. The moments when Jeffrey Shev sings “Off to Massachusetts” while Olivia Torres pantomimes playing the piano never failed to be nothing less than charming. Given that the play is a musical, the score is another factor that can make or break the production, and this orchestra did Jason Howland’s music justice, and then some.

While the story’s flip-flopping chronology is a wee bit on the confusing side, that should not stop you from seeking out this show and experiencing the sweetness of its story, the power of its performances and its marvelous music.

Showtimes: 8 p.m. Aug. 23-25 and Aug. 29-31. Tickets: $25 for general admission, $18 for youths 16 and under, and $22 for seniors, students and active members of the military. For more information, visit patioplayhouse.com or call (760) 746-6669.

Photo Caption: A scene from the Patio Playhouse production of “Little Women” at the Kit Carson Amphitheater in Escondido.  Photo courtesy Adriana Zuniga-Williams

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