A surprising thing happened on March 29th in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Garrison Keillor, the beloved host of the much-adored NPR show, A Prairie Home Companion, showed folks that even after 43 years in radio, he is much more than just everyone’s gracious, loquacious grandpa.
He opened Carolina Performing Arts’ presentation of An Evening with Garrison Keillor and Rich Dworsky with a cappella renditions of “America,” “Amazing Grace,” and other oldies. He even included an old Beatles’ tune: “When I Saw Her Standing There.”
Keillor immediately got the audience singing along (in response to a little oh-so-subtle gesturing). If a song seemed unknown, he’d just stop singing it and start another. He noted that we all must be “church-goers” because we had “such lovely harmonies.” That was the “hook” — he had us in the palm of his hand for the rest of the evening.
Garrison Keillor is a master storyteller. He took us on a journey from his early days in radio, to an adventure that involved skinny-dipping in his college years, to his getting into radio in order to impress a girl (that he was not to have), to losing a beloved uncle, and to gaining a grandchild. We laughed. We sang. We got misty-eyed.
Keillor was quick to tell us that he has some regrets, but he was equally quick to convince us that his regrets were over trivial matters (like too many “fart jokes” on the radio show) rather than over major facets of his life. And he further lightened that mood by telling that oh-so-familiar snippet from Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale.”
Garrison Keillor not only shared narratives from his past, but he also mesmerized the audience with a little free-verse poetry, some songs, a few limericks, and a couple of his signature tall-tale stories. And, of course, he treated us to several jokes, and he even quoted a little Shakespeare.
We were accompanied on this journey by Richard Dworsky, his long-time musical director and piano man. Keillor was also joined onstage by a Broadway ingénue, and they sang such classic duets as “Let It Be Me,” “It’s You,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” and “What’ll I Do?”
Like a beloved grandpa in a rumpled suit (with red shoes, red socks, and a red tie), sporting unkempt hair, his eyes in a perpetual squint, Garrison Keillor is the person we’d love to know, the person that we feel that we do know, and very much the person that we wish we could have to the house for dinner, because we know that he’d entertain from the moment his hat hit the hat rack. And he would never judge us.
According to Keillor, when you get to be his age, you simply give up fighting for causes. In your early years, you are full of vinegar; but when you get to his age (the age when “folks walk you down a hallway and ask you ‘Are stairs ok?'”), you just accept things as they are and let others take on causes.
But make no mistake. Garrison Keillor may be long of tooth, but he is a keen observer of life who will not, as Dylan Thomas said, “[G]o gentle into that good night.” Having grown up in the wake of the Great Depression, during a time when technology had not yet begun to spring forward. He made a multitude of observations about life “then-and-now,” keeping us laughing the whole time.
Near the end of the evening, he stated that every morning, he watched all of the joggers running, running, running, by his door — striving for longevity. And then he wryly stated that he, on the other hand, has achieved longevity “without any effort at all.”
All of that said, Keillor’s show harkens back to a gentler time, when it could indeed be said: “[A]ll of the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
AN EVENING WITH GARRISON KEILLOR AND RICH DWORSKY (Carolina Performing Arts, March 29 in Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill).
SHOW: https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/ros_perf_series/an-evening-with-garrison-keillor/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1127936797233189/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpYvuKttAj0 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg5aCOPF9Bs.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carolina-Performing-Arts/9560250967, https://twitter.com/uncperformarts, and https://www.youtube.com/user/UNCPerformArts.
Garrison Keillor (Anoka, MN-born humorist, raconteur, radio personality, and author): http://www.garrisonkeillor.com/ (official website), http://prairiehome.org/guests/garrison-keillor/ (A Prairie Home Companion bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0445087/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/garrison.keillor.14 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/g_keillor (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrison_Keillor (Wikipedia).
Richard A. Dworsky (A Prairie Home Companion music director, band leader, and accompanist): http://www.richarddworsky.com/ (official website), http://prairiehome.org/guests/richard-dworsky/ (A Prairie Home Companion bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0245458/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/richard.dworsky (Facebook page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Prairie_Home_Companion#Cast (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.