BWW Review: Sierra Madre Revives Their Successful A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS
A Little House Christmas/based on the book Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder/adapted for the stage by James DeVita/directed by Alison Eliel Kalmus/Sierra Madre Playhouse/through December 23
Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic book Little House on the Prairie (1932) became famous as an hour-long TV drama in the 70s (1974-1983) starring Michael Landon and featuring Melissa Gilbert in her acting debut as Laura. The books, as well as the TV show, are forever popular. In fact, the TV show runs regularly on cable channel Insp Monday through Friday. Sierra Madre Playhouse and its artistic director Christian Lebano have chosen to bring back James DeVita's stage adaptation of the stories as its holiday presentation, first seen in 2014, A Little House Christmas, skillfully directed by Alison Eliel Kalmus and featuring a delightful cast of 10, is now onstage in its revival of a West Coast premiere, through December 23.
I myself have been and still am a fan of the TV show on Insp. I must admit, I need to read the books upon which it is based, as the stories are deliciously homespun and an integral part of our heritage. How did folks survive the harsh storms and other inclement elements on the Great Plains of the Midwest in the 1870s? How was it possible for them to live from day to day without radio, TV, computers and cell phones...and to travel on foot and by horse and wagon? Well, they did it, and found happiness in just being together. The message is simple: love your family and abundant riches will follow. Love somebody, do something nice for someone...that's Christmas. Strip away all the commercialism! It's something youngsters need to hear today, as so many concentrate on material goods and have lost contact with their roots.
There's little drama in this short story, divided into two short acts with an intermission. The Ingalls, Charles and Caroline (Rich Cassone, Rachel McLaughlan) and their two daughters straight-laced Mary (Katie-Grace Hansen) and fun-loving, tomboy Laura (Isa Eisenberg, Sofia Naccarato alternating) welcome neighbors Mr. Edwards (Thomas Colby), Uncle George (Barry Schwam), boys Nick and Peter (Adam Simon Krist and Patrick Geringer, Evan Klein alternating) and Mrs, Oleson (Valerie Gould) and daughter Nellie (Samantha Salamoff and Amy Stapenhorst alternating) to their newly built cabin as part of a housewarming party a week or so before Christmas. They all feast, sing, dance and make merriment until calamity forces them to leave. It's in the form of a huge rainstorm which threatens to wash out the adjacent bridge to the town. Rain falls for a week preventing Charles or Caroline from getting into town to buy Christmas presents, and forcing everyone to rethink their priorities, make handmade gifts for one another, celebrating the joy of what they have.
Apart from Kalmus's loving guidance as director, a handsome set by Stephen Gifford, and wonderful musical direction from Ron Barnett, Lindsey Strand Poyak, the original music curator, assembled some lovely period country songs for the ensemble to sing, like "Lo. How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "A Shelter in the Time of Storm", as well as traditional favorite carols like "Silent Night" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". Choreographer Kelsey O'Keeffe has provided some pretty nifty square dancing moves. Charles and Uncle George even duet on dueling fiddles.
The ensemble are pretty much a dream team. Cassone and McLaughlan make Charles and Caroline Ingalls strong, caring parents who put family at the top of their list. McLaughlan is a real treat with her gorgeous soprano voice. Cassone has great fun as he tells a humorous story about his boyhood experience of sledding with a squealing pig, and Colby has a terrific turn in the spotlight with his anecdote about meeting Santa and his pack mules. Naccarato and Hansen are sheer joy as Laura and Mary who learn to use their imagination in creating happy moments. Gould, however, needs to find the obsessive and needling qualities of Mrs. Oleson. She should be snide in her comments about the house instead of consistently charming and pleasant and much more demanding of Nellie. Praise to one and all for their consistent spirit and honesty!
A Little House Christmas may be low on drama but is surely high on heart. It takes you back to a time when daily living truly was survival. How did our ancestors get through the heartaches and bad times? Little House will light the way and, if nothing else, make you cheerful this holiday season.