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Curtain Call

Little House on the Prairie and Swing!

The Guthrie Theater Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie

Already one of the biggest hits in Guthrie history and a show being tipped for a possible Broadway run, Little House on the Prairie is a success. But what of the show? In its present form, the musical—crafted by Rachel Sheinkin, Rachel Portman and Donna di Novelli, from Laura Ingalls Wilder's famed series of books—is a frustrating ride.

As it tells the entire sweep of Laura's tale in a single evening, it becomes more a series of episodes than a coherent story. This lack of focus makes it hard to get under the skin of most of the characters. Toss in a score that rarely moves beyond functional, and you have an evening that is—while not a disaster—is certainly less than it could be.

The musical sweeps across many of the books, starting with the Ingalls family in Kansas and ending with Laura taking steps into adulthood. Along the way, there is a kind of CliffsNotes version of events from a number of books—the long, blizzard-laden winter; tussling with Nellie Oleson; going away from home to teach so her sister, Mary, can go to a school for the blind in Iowa—tied somewhat together by a long-simmering romance with Almanzo Wilder.

With so much happening, there isn't a lot of time to develop characters, and only a few members of the large cast get a chance to add any real nuance to their performances. Thankfully, Kara Lindsay is quite good as Laura, showing all of the conflicting emotions as she grows up. As a singer she is also strong, but could dial down her performance a bit to make the biggest emotions really shine through.

Also strong are Jenn Gambatese as sister Mary and Steve Blanchard as Pa, both providing good anchors for Laura's wild moments. Kevin Massey plays Almanzo with plenty of charm, but not a lot of depth. And Melissa Gilbert—Laura from the TV show—is pretty much robotic as Ma and completely outclassed as a vocalist.

In general, there's a real flatness to the production, starting with the dull score and diffuse script and stretching out to the work done by director Francesca Zambello. Little House on the Prairie has its moments, especially during the Long Winter segment in act one, but it largely passes without eliciting much emotion. (The show also has a great ending moment, but ruins it by adding another scene that does nothing but hammer home the point of the play, and give the ensemble one last number.)

It's all really a shame, as Little House on the Prairie should provide plenty of opportunities to tell a good story on stage. Yet by making the canvas too broad, the creators miss the heart of the story and leave us with a cold recreation.

 

Review by www.TalkinBroadway.Org