The musical version of the beloved novel comes alive north of Denver

I’ve read Little Women. I even thought I read all of Little Women. I didn’t find out until years later that those Reader’s Digest books my mom purchased (mostly for decoration) were condensed versions of classics. But even the shortened version of the book made me fall in love with the March sisters, so I was thrilled to learn that the musical version of the Louisa May Alcott classic was coming to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Written by Alan Knee and directed by Pat Payne and Phil Forman, Little Women takes place during the midst of the Civil War. The four March sisters and their mother (“Marmee”) are in charge of making the best of things while the patriarch is fighting in the war. We see the dynamics of this tight-knit and loving family play out on the stage as the sisters go to balls, fall in love, fight, and love and support one another.

There’s Jo (Emery Hines), the headstrong, adventurous writer who dreams big. She creates plays for the sisters to perform to pass the time, while also writing and sending off stories with blood and guts to publishers. Eventually, when she receives her 22nd rejection — and upon the advice of Prof. Bhaer (Chris Bain), she writes a story about life with her sisters.

This is Hines’s debut at The Candlelight, and she shines. Her energy is palpable as she recites her stories to the professor. In the background, we see her characters come to life as they play out the scenes in Jo’s stories. This layered set is part of what makes this musical feel so big — almost like there are two shows happening.

Ending the first act and letting us know that big changes are coming, Hines blows the audience away singing, with passion and a sense of longing, the song “Astonishing.” With lyrics such as “I only know I’m meant for something more/I’ve got to know if I can be, astonishing” we feel everything Jo is feeling: her determination, her sadness to be moving forward, and her hope.

Other cast standouts include Sara Kowalski as Amy, the youngest sibling, an artist. She’s jealous of her older sisters and wishes she were sophisticated and worldly. Kowalski’s comic timing as the bratty little sister and big voice for “The Most Amazing Thing” has the audience laughing and smiling. Eric Heine, who plays Laurie, is charming and funny as he explores his love for two of the March sisters. He sings “Take A Chance on Me” in an effort to persuade one of the sisters to marry him, leaving the audience enthusiastically rooting for a “yes.”

This production was surely not a condensed version, as I read years ago. With the layered sets, larger cast, and beautiful period costumes, along with many set and costume changes, Little Women has the feel of a Broadway play right in Johnstown, Colorado. Indeed, this may well be my favorite production I’ve seen thus far at the Candlelight. I found myself thoroughly entertained the whole way through, with no role played like it was a small part.