What ever preconceived notions you have about Little House on the Prairie The Musical are comfortably accurate. That is to say if the title is something that catches your interest, then this is probably for you. If it is not, well it may be best to sit out the opening show of Starlight’s sixtieth season.
This is probably the safest show I have seen on a stage in the past year. That is to say those in the audience that enjoyed it seemed to really have a good time. And going back to my opening I would stand by my statement. If the name of this production catches your attention it’s probably something you will dig. It’s just that I didn’t fall into that category.
Little House on the Prairie The Musical follows the Ingalls family as they make their way west. I’ve never read the book, though based on it’s description this production diverges from the content of the book pretty heavily. The credits do list it as being based on the books. The government has offered free land in exchange for working it for five years. Laura, one of three girls, I never quite caught if she was older or younger than her sister Mary but I don’t think it mattered much. Laura is a head strong, tough as any of the boys and a bit rough around the edges in other words a bit of a tom boy who would rather ride on the trail out west than spend time in school or doing other frail womanly things. A nice strong female character to present to a younger Twilight-obsessed generation. Her parents have a hard time reeling her in from time to time. The opposite, her sister Mary wants to be a school teacher, is well behaved and takes instruction well from her parents.
After ultimately settling in to DeSmet, South Dakota things are rough, a brutal winter changes quite a bit on the prairie and for the Ingalls. From the opening number of “Thunder” in the still sun-lit theatre, I had a sense that there wouldn’t be anything unexpected about this show and there isn’t. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if it didn’t come across as being so dull. Since the story takes place on the Prairie the production value is pretty sparse just as it was at the time the Ingall’s were settling it.
The first act chugs along at a timid pace. I began to feel that pervading sense that just because something can be made into a musical perhaps means that it shouldn’t. It wasn’t the fault of the performers. Kara Lindsay in the lead role as Laura does a great job. Laura is empowered to do whatever she wants and Lindsay handles this quite naturally. The performance seems to send a good message for any young girl which the audience seemed to be brimming with.
Equally compelling was Kate Loprest as Nellie Oleson. The two ladies seemed to battle for attention, much like their characters when they shared the stage. Melissa Gilbert best known for portraying Laura on the television telling of Little House on the Prairie plays Ma (Caroline Ingalls) in the production and seems to be the main star getting most of the attention in promotion of the production. She does okay, considering she has had time to find her way on the show, Kansas City is the final stop on the touring company’s 26 city schedule. I found her performance of “Wild Child” to be a bit lacking toward the end of Act 2 her voice seeming to be a bit weak. Regardless, the crowd seemed to pop the loudest when she made her first appearance and laugh right along with her when she broke character after Anastasia Korbal as Carrie Ingalls had a moment to shine in an admittedly funny outburst.
Thankfully act 2 seems to up the pace a bit after the slow building pace of act 1. This was helped by the larger cast of the first act taking a back seat to a small group much like the smaller location Laura had moved on to. Once the show finds it’s way forward much like Laura does after her selfless act, it ramps up and delivers an upbeat ending in a pretty quick fashion. The show certainly ends on a high note and with high energy.
I give Little House on the Prairie The Musical 3 “the bats have left the bell tower(s)” out of 5
Little House on the Prairie The Musical is at Starlight Theatre through Sunday June 27. Tickets are available at KCStarlight.com or by calling the box office 1-800-776-1730
by John Coovert