Created and scored by the creative minds behind Waitress, “Little Voice” takes us on a young songwriter’s journey to discover her own identity.
Starring Brittany O’Grady, Sean Teale, Colton Ryan, Shalini Bathina, Kevin Valdez, and Phillip Johnson Richardson
Created by the writer of hit Broadway musical Waitress, Jessie Nelson, with music written by composer Sara Bareilles, expectations for “Little Voice” were sky high. After all, Waitress tells the hugely emotional tale of pie maker Jenna as she endeavours to escape from her abusive husband when she discovers that she is pregnant. Though it, unfortunately, didn’t win any Tonys (Hamilton was that year, so go figure), that doesn’t erase the massive impact the story has, both through its writing and its incredible soundtrack.
Loosely based on Sara Bareilles’ own experiences as a developing artist, “Little Voice” revolves around Bess (Brittany O’Grady). Whilst juggling multiple jobs as a dog walker, piano teacher, bartender and volunteering at a carehome, Bess houses aspirations as a singer songwriter, taking her trusted notebook wherever she goes, ready to scribble down any thoughts that come to her at random moments. On top of this, Bess also attempts to care for her neurodiverse brother Louie (Kevin Valdez), deal with the effects of her father’s alcoholism and navigate her feelings for Ethan (Sean Teale), who is decidedly taken.
From her storage unit, Bess starts to expel her innermost, sacred thoughts into song, but still isn’t ready to share these creations with the world. The series follows as her career begins to get going, amassing a small band, and some initial encounters with record labels and producers that threaten to remove her artistic vision, or fail to understand all that she can offer.
It’s a solid premise, and the main draw of it is just how likeable Bess is. The audience roots for her throughout, despite her many flaws. She takes a lot of her troubles upon her own shoulders, and her constant desire to assist and protect those around her makes her own journey of self discovery and confidence all the more satisfying.
The series is definitely bolstered by Sara Bareilles’ sublime songs. As a writer, Bareilles is no stranger to imbuing songs with an incredible amount of spirit and heart, and there are few songs here which aren’t absolutely entrancing. Some of these are lifted from Bareilles’ own history, such as the title song “Little Voice”, which was a cut song from her debut album, while others are specially written for the show, like “Ghost Light”. All of them are equally listenable and emotional, and are heavily contextualised within the show as Bess writes them herself.
That would, of course, be nothing without a capable performer to carry them off, and Brittany O’Grady’s voice has a haunting quality that manages to convey many layers of meaning and massive depths of emotion through Bareilles’ beguiling melodies.
That’s not to say that Brittany O’Grady is the only talented member of the cast. Kevin Valdez is massively likeable and endearing as musical theatre enthusiast Louie, who is beginning to learn to live without Bess and make his own path in the world. Colton Ryan is massively dependable and a brilliant support for Bess as band mate Samuel, a relationship that threatens to develop into something more, and Bess’s roommate Prisha (Shalini Bathina) has an equally important journey to go on, as she tries to navigate her newfound sexuality as a lesbian with her conservative Indian parents’ insistence that she agree to an arranged marriage.
Ultimately, “Little Voice” is about the journey and the struggle of a young person to find their own voice, and their own confidence in themselves. It’s a massively relatable concept, and one that is ably and entertainingly conveyed throughout its first season. Here’s hoping there’s more to come.
Little Voice is streaming now on Apple TV+