Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Little House on the Prairie: The Show Doctor is In

If you read my earlier column, you know how much I loved (maybe even am smitten with) the new musical version of Little House on the Prairie. I don’t think the show was ever intended for Broadway, and it seems doubtful the show would ever transfer there; however, in case that should happen, here are a few “fixes” director Francesca Zambello might be mulling over.

1. I don’t exactly remember the lyrics of “Up Ahead,” the song which opens and closes the show, but lyrically, it ties together the expansive story. Somehow reprising the song in the middle of the show (or including a new song with very similar concepts) will help focus the audience on the main idea, which is Laura Ingalls as a symbol of Americans’ industrial nature and indomitable spirit. It would provide the audience with a clearer direction in the storytelling.

2. There was a song in Act 1 (which I believe to be “Uncle Sam, Where Are You?”) in which the lyrics seem to be doing some fighting with the melody. Rewrite one of them.

3. “The Prairie Moves” is the other song in the piece that doesn’t soar. Steve Blanchard’s voice is perfectly suited to the moment, but the lyrics and melody simply don’t lift.

4. “I’ll Be Your Eyes,” the song in which Laura dedicates herself to Mary after her blindness, is so beautiful and moving. The problem is that as placed now, it requires too much of an emotional transformation from Mary in such a short time. She can’t go from devastated to content in three minutes.

5. “Wild Child,” Melissa Gilbert’s solo at the end of the show, should be an intimate moment between Laura and Ma. As currently staged, she starts to sing it to Laura in front of the family before heading outside. It’s too intimate of a moment, and it should be shared between the two. With the new staging, the song would be even better adapted to Gilbert’s singing voice, which has a natural intimacy to it.

6. The lyrics could use some additional refining to smooth over some of the off-rhymes, though I can’t remember noticing if there were tons.

7. Of course, there are the regional touches that would need to be fixed if the show ever made it to Broadway. It would not due on Broadway for Mary and Carrie to suffer deadly illness sitting on a kitchen chair or lying on a kitchen bench. Nor would it be acceptable to have wealthy, spoiled Nellie Oleson sleep on a big wooden table with a blanket, particularly when there’s such an effective backdrop.

8. Most obviously, the show would need an increase in actors and, oh let’s hope, instruments in the pit. This is a score that begs to be vast and open like the prairie, not limited by a regional budget.

The Broadway Mouth
October 21, 2008

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