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Little House on the Prairie -- The Musical
a Atlanta Premiere
CATEGORY :
by Rachel Sheinkin, Music by Rachel Portman

COMPANY : Theater of the Stars [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Fabulous Fox [WEBSITE]
ID# 3748

SHOWING : June 15, 2010 - June 20, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Little House on the Prairie has remained one of the most popular and beloved celebrations of early Americana since the appearance of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic book series 75 years ago. Now the inspirational stories take on a brand new frontier in an uplifting new musical.

Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura for 10 years in the much loved television series, continues her legacy by playing Ma. Families will continue to fall in love with these life affirming stories about the Ingalls’ struggles and triumphs through the celebration of the pioneering spirit and the core values on which this country was founded – a spirit that still resonates within each of us today.

The show is directed by Francesca Zambello (Disney’s The Little Mermaid), the music has been created by Academy Award® winner, Rachel Portman, and the book was written by Rachel Sheinkin (Tony Award® for SPELLING BEE) with lyrics by Donna di Novelli.


CAST & CREW LIST
Cast Stephanie Rollheiser
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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The Small House of Laura Ingalls
by playgoer
Sunday, June 27, 2010
3.0
"Little House on the Prairie" has a built-in audience of those adults who watched the TV series as children and now have children of their own. Melissa Gilbert's participation probably sealed the deal in getting the musical produced and sent on tour. It is a business proposition we have on stage, not a successful artistic endeavor.

That's not to say that highly talented people haven't been hired to work on the show. The staging is fluid and inventive, and all the actors onstage give good acting performances. The voices, with one exception, are superb. The story and music, however, don't live up to the level of talent that's been assembled to give them life.

The set is a metaphor for the production as a whole. Individual rough-hewn walls are moved about to portray various locations. One wall has a door in the middle of it, but it's not a functioning door. There's no way in or out through it. In order to make exits and entrances, the actors have to walk around the entire wall. That's what this production is: an obstacle the talented performers have to make their way around.

The story focuses on the latter half of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, so we don't have the little "Half Pint" that the series introduced us to in season one. The Laura we see is less the spunky juvenile that Melissa Gilbert portrayed on TV than a stereotypical tomboy. The little girls in the audience seemed to bond most closely with the actress playing Carrie, who was their age. The young adult actors portraying adolescents did a fine job, aided by the youthful costuming, but they weren't kids. The show might actually work better in a school production, with children portraying children.

It's wonderful that people are making a living off this show and that children are being brought to the theatre to experience the joys of stagecraft. This isn't "Mary Poppins," though, where the stage show reimagined the well-known source material and made it work on its own merits. Here, we're given glimpses of "oh, I remember that episode on TV" and "yeah, that rings a bell" instead of being brought inside the story and held captive there through the magic of storytelling. The show is marketable, and hence it's on the boards, but it certainly isn't ready for Broadway. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Flat and Plain
by Dedalus
Friday, June 25, 2010
3.0
The National Tour of “Little House on the Prairie – The Musical” rolls into the Fox, packing its pedigree like a homesteader’s wagon. Originated by the prestigious Guthrie Theatre of Minneapolis, it is based on the universally beloved novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and their subsequent transformation into an even more beloved television series. Series star Melissa Gilbert, all grown up now, even comes along for the ride as Ma Ingalls.

I hope you won’t decide to tar and feather me if I admit that, despite some heart-felt moments, despite some excellent work by the leading actors, and despite a clever production design, I found the show more than a little plain and flat.

To start with, the music and lyrics by Rachel Portman and Donna Di Novelli, although pleasant in and of themselves, do absolutely nothing to evoke the period or the locale. I found it a tad disconcerting from the beginning, when a supposedly 12-year-old Laura Ingalls sings the “I gotta be free to run” anthem “Thunder” with a very adult, very Broadway-caliber voice. Although Kara Lindsay is a wonderful actress (she convincingly plays all the various ages of the character), whenever she opens her mouth to sing, she betrays her real age. That her voice is wonderful with a belt to melt the heart of any cynic, is, perhaps, a mitigating factor, but it still made it difficult to accept her as the rambunctious pre-teen she is portraying.

All the songs, in fact, owe more to Broadway and Tin Pan Alley than they do to 19th-century Americana. Compare this score to such shows as the bluegrass-heavy “Robber Bridegroom” or the Civil War era “Shenandoah,” or, more recently, early-2oth-century “Ragtime.” These shows all managed to evoke their periods without losing sight of that special emotional style we musical geeks thrive on. The songwriters here apparently didn’t even try, more or less grafting a too-familiar modern style onto a period framework, kind of as if an Amish sampler had been made with a PowerPoint printout.

The structure of the piece is also a little bit “by-the-numbers” for my taste. Following Laura Ingalls from the age of 12, when her family moves to South Dakota, until her marriage at age 16, each conflict or tragedy is brushed easily aside, or dealt with in a too-quick resolution that made the whole pioneer experience seem about as threatening as a walk in a spring shower. Yes, bad things happen, sacrifices are made, and hardships come regularly, but none seem particularly difficult to overcome, or long-lasting (Mary’s blindness notwithstanding). Even traditional antagonist Nellie Oleson just whines and kvetches a bit before becoming BFF’s with Laura. (And, while we’re on the subject of Ms. Nellie, her Act II “Without an Enemy” is a sweet and funny number, but, didn’t anyone take note that it basically interrupts the story without adding anything to the plot?)

From a performance standpoint, Ms. Gilbert acquits herself well, though she is easily overshadowed by her younger co-stars. Steve Blanchard makes a strong and deep-voiced “Pa,” but, he seems a bit too cold and “larger than life,” as if he never got over playing the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s good, then, they stay on the edges of the story, because the show belongs to the young. Kara Lindsay, as I said above, is a quite compelling and enjoyable as Laura, and she is equally matched by Kevin Massey’s young and studly Almanzo Wilder (his first number, “Old Enough,” is, in fact, one of the best moments of the show). The two also have a nice chemistry together and made me really like them in spite of myself. Jessica Hershberg and Anastasia Korbal are also fine as Laura’s siblings Mary and Carrie, and Kate Loprest almost steals the show with her few scenes as Nellie Oleson.

Adrienne Lobel has created a nicely adaptable set of open skies and interchangeable cabin walls, and it is all nicely lit by Mark McCullough, with warm summer ambers, cool winter blues, and plain prairie golds. If the sound comes across as too canned and too tinny, well, it is the Fox, and at least the volume was not set to blood-from-the-ears levels.

So, the question is, will fans of “Little House on the Prairie” like it? That may be difficult to answer. I was never a watch-it-every-week fan of the show, though I did enjoy it on occasion. I did manage to talk to two fans, one of whom loved every minute of the show, another of whom hated it completely. It probably will come down to how well you connect with the actors, the songs, and the story.

I found many moments to like, the characters were (mostly) as compelling as ever, the songs were okay in their non-evocative way, the performances by the young leads left me hoping to see them again soon. But, will I remember the show for very long or rush out to find a recording of the music? Not for now, at least.

The few times I’ve driven across the plains, I find myself with a tinge of agoraphobia. For me, a show that reflects the plain flatness of the flat plain is just plain “Okay, but I prefer me some more ups and downs.”

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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