BWW REVIEWS: LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE Touches Hearts at the Fox Theatre
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, a new musical based on the beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder series of classic American books, made its debut at the Fox Theatre for seven performances, Tuesday, December 1 - Saturday, December 5.Melissa Gilbert, who rose to fame as a child playing ‘Laura' in the hugely successful NBC television series "Little House on the Prairie" during the 1970's, now continues her legacy ‘on the prairie' by taking on the role of Ma. Little House on the Prairie also stars Steve Blanchard as Pa and Kara Lindsay as Laura.Considering that I was not even born when the NBC television series originally aired in 1974, and that I was only four by the time it was off the air my fondest memories of the series was completely formed by watching out of order re-runs. I was definitely a fan of the show, but would not call myself an expert. Going into the Fox Theatre to review the musical version of the show, all I knew for sure was that I was completely heart broken when Mary lost her vision and inspired by the love and affection that the wholesome Ingalls family had for each other every week. The idea of making this into a two hour musical admittedly scared me a bit, since I was not sure how they could wrap up all the trials and tribulations that the Ingalls faced over the eight year series in such a short amount of time, or if they would even try. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Act One is packed full of drama that the family must endure, this production did a wonderful job of trying to cover at least all of the major tragedies that the family had to face on the prairie. In Act One alone the Ingalls go through everything from starvation to crop fires. Act Two wrapped up all of the dramatic events from the first Act very nicely. In Act Two, Laura is older and is teaching to pay for Mary to go to the school for the blind and the relationship between Laura and Almanzo blossoms. The nostalgia I felt when Melissa Glibert walked onto stage as Ma was amazing, but to see the Ingalls family reformed on stage was even more touching. Kara Lindsay, played Laura with the perfect mix of spunk, adventure and energy. Her vocals were strong, but at times it was hard to believe that Lindsay was supposed to be a child, it seemed like she was trying to mask her adult voice the best she could which helped a bit, but it was still strange at times. Alessa Neeck, played Mary with the exact amount of timid quietness, yet determination that the character requires. Nellie was played by Kate Loprest, I enjoyed the way this version of the character was much more annoying than sinister, which is the way I remembered her on the TV show. Nellie had a comedic twist that was a nice touch so you didn't have to hate her quite as much for loving to make Laura's life miserable. Rachel Portman and Donna di Novelli have created 26 original musical numbers, including reprises which for the most part were effective at moving the story along. "Without An Enemy" is one of Nellie's stand out comedic songs where she proclaims that she doesn't even have a reason to get out of bed if she has no one to bother. The song "Good" was extremely reminiscent since it is a duet between Ma and Laura. It was heart warming to see Melissa Gilbert after almost 30 years embracing the role of Ma, while singing beside a new version of Laura. Melissa Gilberts acting was strong, however in her one solo "Wild Child" I have to say that her singing was a bit weak. Even if Gilbert is not the strongest vocally, the nostalgia she brings to the show for me was well worth it. When I realized that they were going to go through the period when Mary goes blind the waterworks started immediately. Since this was one of my favorite episodes I was apprehensive about how it would translate on stage. After hearing the songs "Tin Cup" sung by Pa, and "I'll Be Your Eyes" sung by Laura my fears were replaced by tears welling up in my eyes. Both songs were beautifully written and move the audience through that emotional time. For someone who loves musical theater, hearing a song that transforms a favorite episode was truly a joy. The set design, by Adrianne Lobel was very simplistic yet scenic. There were numerous scene backdrops with breathtaking views of the prairie, which provided a beautiful landscape. The detail of the backdrops allowed the cast to appear as though they were building a fence with just one plank of wood, or repairing a railroad by using a rope to portray the work. Some of the costumes created by Jess Goldstien were questionable at times for the era. I have to admit I liked some of the children in the audience that were dressed in traditional 1800's attire better than the ones on stage.In no way did I expect to have tears streaming down my face and laughter in my heart at almost the same time. The mix of drama and surprising comedic moments are really great about the show. Little House on the Prairie revived in the form of a musical was refreshing, reminding us that family values are important in life, while throwing in a chuckle here and there. It was nice to get to see a new generation in the audience, dressed in full 1800's garb getting to experience this beloved series in the form of a musical.
Though the show has passed through Detroit, it continues it's National Tour through June of 2010. Next stop is Tempe, Arizona from December 8 - December 13. For a complete list of upcoming tour cities, click here or visit www.littlehousethemusical.com.