On Friday night, with the first of four Christmas shows for my roommate, we went to the Little House on the Prairie Musical that was in the Overture Center. The show starred Melissa Gilbert (the original Laura Ingles) as the mother. Going into the show I will be honest in saying that we were a little warry of it. My roommate loved Little House on the Prairie as a child which is why I bought the tickets for her, and why I’m sure many people did. It is this reliance on the name brand that made us unsure of the quality of the show.
Overall, I think the show was adequate. There were times that I really enjoyed the music, and times that I thought it was pretty pitiful. The singers I thought were ok too. I really thought the shining light of the show was Kevin Massey who played Almanzo Wilder. He was a strong singer, very energetic, and I think did a pretty good job at acting the part too. We saw the understudy for Laura Ingles (I believe Jessica Hershberg but not sure) and I thought she was really good too, it made me wonder how good the real actress was. Melissa Gilbert was a bit of a let down. She was hoarse throughout the show, not entirely her fault but it certainly is not the condition you want to see out of one of the main singers (especially one whose weight was used to sell the show).
The story I felt was the real let down of the musical. I feel like they wanted to rush through the entire storyline of the series into a short two hour show. So everything was rushed through, many parts were cut, and many were modified to help ease the story through faster. A big victim of this was Nellie who was the villain in the real story, and was portrayed as one in the musical, but you would have never known except they kept on referring to each other as enemies. Nothing was done between the two outside of an initial skit where Nellie called them country folk and then vied to be right instead of Mary. But it felt artificial at best. Nellie’s father also suffered, turning from the nice guy of the family in the series to a shrewd businessmen letting the town parish due to starvation (taking that role from the mother who was cut completely). I think it would have been better overall had the writers picked a time frame from the book and stuck with it, offering a big event in that span but not covering so much in so little time.
Another awkward moment of the musical was the use of horses throughout the program. The precedence was really started early in the show on the wagon train where they lined up a row of tables, sat on them and then weaved back and forth to try to get a semblance of movement. Personally, I would have rather they skipped this idea and had just kind of arrived in the area. They used horses throughout the show though, often tying up reins to pegs at the front of the stage and using them to pretend they were driving horses. This wasn’t as bad as the wagon train but still had awkward moments like when Almanzo gave Laura the reins and she proceeded to apparently separate completely from the coach and fly around the coach while the coach stood in place. I think it was a mistake for them to pretend horses existed on the stage, the audience would have forgiven the omission.
Not to say the entire show was bad. I felt the humor that was dispersed through out the play was right on and I enjoyed Laura’s, and later Carrie’s, quips throughout. Often time, the humor was used at just the right time when the musical was otherwise slowing down a bit much.
I think the biggest positive about going to Little House on the Prairie was really just the act of getting out and doing something. And even better something different than a movie. It was enjoyable, though not great. And so I do feel that we got our money’s worth, though I do think that it was slightly more expensive than it really needed to have been.