The Broadway Series South production of Little House on the Prairie, the Musical opened at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday, March 16 to a packed house. The show, with music by Rachel Portman, lyrics by Donna Di Novelli, and the book by Rachel Sheinkin centers around a young and spirited Laura Ingalls and her transformation from a top notch mischief maker to a young woman learning to embrace life and searching for the true meaning of freedom. What is most impressive about this production is that it is able to mix all the nostalgia invoked by the Little House books and the popular 1970’s NBC show with the gritty realism of life in the early 1880’s Dakota Territory seamlessly.
While some critics have suggested that the harsh realities of prairie life are shown a bit too vividly, one can only assume that they do not know much about American history. The struggles that the characters endure are not over the top, but are merely an honest portrayal of the hardships (and joys) many families faced. The fact that the Ingalls family is able to grow closer together during the course of these difficulties is the real heart of the show. The relationships that Laura has with each member of her family are so honest and moving that one can’t help but become emotionally invested in the show and in the lives of these beloved characters.
Scenes between Laura (Megan Campanile) and her older sister, Mary (Alessa Neeck), are particularly touching. Everything from sisterly jealousy and frustration, as evidenced by the adorable Campanile’s rendition of “Good,” to self-sacrifice and devotion are played out on stage between the pair. Campanile is perfectly cast in her role and was able to make the transition from a rebellious, barefoot child to a young adult sacrificing her own desires to help her blind sister completely believable. In fact, this transformation happens so subtly and so naturally that viewers feel they have been a part of the Ingalls’ family life for much longer than the show’s two and a half hour run time.
Pa, played by the fabulous Steve Blanchard, is another of the show’s most memorable characters. It is difficult to distinguish whether the multi-dimensional levels of his character are brought to life by great writing on Di Novelli’s part or a simply amazing performance by Blanchard. He is able to shift effortlessly from a stern but loving father and family man to a determined and sometimes doubtful pioneer. Likewise, much loved Melissa Gilbert’s portrayal of Ma is fascinating to watch. One can clearly see how Ma struggles with her acceptance (and eventual embracement) of Laura’s wild side and with its similarity to her own girlhood. This, of course, also serves as a clever and subtle way of bringing to mind Gilbert’s television role as a young Laura Ingalls. The song, “Wild Child,” is beautifully written and captures the relationship between all too alike mother and daughter perfectly.
One can also not overlook the hilarious (though not-so-lovable) role of the infamous Nellie Oleson as performed by a wonderfully villainous Kate Loprest. Her high pitched voice, overly bouncy blonde ringlets, and prissy demeanor are just perfect, and her songs and antics (including falling over a fence post) provide just the right touch of humor to a show that deals with some tough themes. Nellie Oleson is proof that no matter what situation one is facing, there will always be room for gossip and some good old fashioned competition.
The fabulously frilly and Prairie-esque costume design by Jess Goldstein must also be noted. Every bonnet and lacy petticoat was beautifully designed and helped to assist in character development and transformation. This, combined with a simple but lovely scenic design by Adrianne Lobel made for a realistic experience that went by all too quickly.
Audience members, including some dressed in full prairie outfits, jumped to their feet to applaud the efforts of a wonderful cast and a truly enjoyable show. No matter what some of the recent reviews of Little House on the Prairie, the Musical may have to say about the show, it was very well received here in Raleigh, North Carolina and should certainly enjoy a successful run.
It should also be noted that the actors take a heartfelt moment after the show to raise awareness and generate support for an organization that works to better the lives of those affected by AIDs and HIV. After speaking with several cast members after the show, it was obvious that this is a cause that many of them care very deeply about, so if at all possible, do try and make a donation to this worthy cause.
Little House on the Prairie, the Musical will run through Sunday, March 21. Tickets are available by calling Ticketmaster or by visiting the Broadway Series South website at http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com