Prairie Life Takes the Stage, Oct. 27 – Nov. 1

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Little House on the Prairie the Musical (All ages)
TPAC’s Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
782-4040 • tpac.org
Remaining show times: Wed – Thu 7:30 p.m., Fri 8 p.m., Sat 2 and 8 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $25.50 – $58

Legendary American author Laura Ingalls-Wilder must be smiling from the great beyond to recognize the amazing legacy she left behind by penning her wildly popular series of Little House books, which chronicled her family’s pioneer life in the Midwest during the latter part of the 19th century.

The highly successful TV show, loosely based on the book series, that first aired in 1974 was a staple of family entertainment each week during its nine-season run, and it still airs in syndication. Currently, Ingalls-Wilder’s work is enjoying new life in form of a musical stage adaptation during a national tour, working its way toward hopeful Broadway success, and fans of the TV show will enjoy seeing its primary star, Melissa Gilbert, in a whole new role.

It was absolutely heartwarming when I entered the TPAC lobby and saw many little girls dressed like Laura, bonnets and all! They were so excited to see the show. I talked to a few of the (half) pint-sized crowd, and all of them gushed about their love of the books and how they couldn’t wait to see the “pioneer girls” on stage. In further chats with kids during intermission and after the show, the consensus was, “We love it!”

I’m happy they experienced it differently than I did, through their tiny, unjaded eyes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good stuff here, but this production also encounters some problematic areas that perhaps are only visible to a seasoned adult theater patron.

The show presents many integral parts of the book series’ overall story arc, but there are too many of them, resulting in some disjointed aspects on stage. Some elements are rushed through, like Laura and Almanzo’s romance; there wasn’t enough sustenance there for me to believe that his marriage proposal made sense. It lacks the “click” between the characters to let the audience know that there’s a real moment between them where they’ve truly fallen in love with each other. Rachel Sheinkin’s script also neglects the inclusion of other characters and events surrounding the ones on stage that would have brought a lot more color to the stage.

While Rachel Portman’s score (with lyrics by Donna Di Novelli) — which the live orchestra perfectly plays — captures the Americana feel of the 1880s, the majority of the musical numbers feel more like filler than fiber. I was disappointed that there was no inclusion of at least a couple of the folk songs of the day — especially “Old Dan Tucker” — that the Ingalls girls danced a jig to while their Pa provided musical accompaniment on his fiddle. To me, this was a huge misstep. Allowing the audience to experience some real music of the day inside the Ingalls’ little house would have infused a great deal of authenticity to the show, that is, in fact, based on real events.

The big ticket-selling draw is the fact that Melissa Gilbert — who brought Laura to unforgettable life in the Little House TV show — is in the cast as Caroline “Ma” Ingalls. The unfortunate thing, though, is that Gilbert’s on-stage role doesn’t really add that much to the story and overall production, other than the fact that it is fun to see this beloved pop-culture icon in a live arena … and that may only be relevant to those of us who grew up watching her on TV as “Half Pint.”

Despite the fact that she’s technically too old for the part, Kara Lindsay does a fine job playing central character Laura. She has a pleasant singing voice, and thanks to the duet number, “Good,” that she shares with Gilbert in Act I, Lindsay has the opportunity to embrace the audience with her funny side, as does Gilbert.

Steve Blanchard offers a hearty delivery of Charles “Pa” Ingalls, giving his character a decent amount of strength and dexterity, and 10-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar serves up a lot of charm and humor in her role as the youngest Ingalls sibling, Carrie.

It’s the impeccably talented Kate Loprest, however, who is the ultimate scene-stealing star of the show playing Laura’s arch nemesis, the elite and bratty Nellie Oleson. Loprest delivers the liveliest aspects of the production, giving it her all, especially with her physical comedy talent along with her beautifully dynamic singing voice.

If you have little girls who are in love with the Little House books that you most likely grew up reading, they will surely enjoy this show, as did those on opening night. It’s great to see their interest and fascination with a time that was simpler than contemporary society, when a true sense of family was at the forefront. While this show does have some technical glitches, at its heart and soul is the celebration of the family unit and how those we love most can bind together and survive the great difficulties that life can thrust upon us. That is the essence of the pioneer spirit that Laura Ingalls-Wilder lived and so graciously shared in print with a multitude of generations to follow.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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