Everyone's favorite pioneer family - the Ingalls, will be roaring back into the mainstream media via a new Broadway bound show starring Melissa Gilbert herself. Gilbert played Laura Ingals, a character based on the real life author of the Little House series. No longer a "half pint" as Pa always called her with a wink and a smile, Melissa comes full circle and returns to Walnut Grove as "Ma" Ingalls. Melissa Gilbert is a cultural icon that a generation grew up with in the United States and throughout the world. Little House was one of the most distributed network programs during its heyday and was broadcast all over Europe. Even France that has strict rules to protect French culture in programming had a large fan base.
We all learned life lessons along with Laura and her pigtails via tough love from a family who were always trying to make ends meet. Like Loretta Lynn sang in the song "Coal Miners Daughter", They were poor and they had love, but most of all they had each other! Somehow, Michael Landon's portrayal of Pa with his strong hand and kind heart made you understand why he had to punish the kids. You even felt his pain as he whipped them when they crossed the line. Clearly, times have changed. Nowadays kids are screaming at their mothers from designer strollers about the Starbucks hot chocolate they NEED! ( I actually saw that scene played out here in NYC one day)
Just like the pioneer family that the show was written about ( a true story by the way), the musical will get to Broadway the hard way. The group will tour the country for up to a year before it finds it's way back to NYC.
The show made its debut in Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater in August 2008. Despite mixed reviews, the show broke box office records and was extended for a total of 16 weeks. As happens so often in Hollywood and on Broadway, once producers saw the reaction and potential of a Broadway Little House - the decision to re-write the entire show was made. So for the last year, there have been rewrites, cuts, and additions. By the time the show officially opens at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn,New Jersey this weekend - it could be called Little House on Steroids - or Walnut Grove 2.0- the return of Nellie Olsen!
I was honored to be invited to a performance for the press earlier this month. The show hits all the notes that American's who buy tickets want to hear. You have big musical numbers, dancing, and old fashioned family values. No glossed over sweetness here - remember even the television show dealt with difficult subject matters from the novels - such as oldest daughter Mary losing her eyesight to Scarlet Fever. That is an important development in the show as Laura (Kara Lindsay) sings to Mary (Alessa Neeck) -"I'll be your eyes" to help her adjust to her loss.
The show is "Americana" at it's core. It tells us -Work hard, and when you think you can't work any more - hang on for another tough winter! The pioneers were not drive-thru using, big gulp slurping whimps. These people broke their backs to raise a family and forge ahead and build the towns of the Western United States. This show is a great way to introduce a conversation about family values and work ethics to your little ones. There are so many concepts within the story that could be a learning tool for teachers to work into the curriculum. Little House on the Prairie is a perfect candidate for class field trips for children of all school ages.
All you New Yorkers or those close to the tri-state area can see this version now, and then again when it comes to Broadway. It is a rare and unique opportunity to see the show this way - as it will inevitably go through even more tweaks and rewrites on the road. That is a common practice and producers can't resist treating regional theaters as a testing ground and a way to get great feedback before a "perfect" show hits Broadway.
I had a chance to speak with Melissa Gilbert after the rehearsal and she was really charming and very excited to see the show come to fruition. The corsets, petticoats, and ankle boots are surely not something most actresses have in their closet. When I told Ms. Gilbert I was covering the show for the fashion angle - she didn't miss a beat and said " Of course, after all we do have a Ralph Lauren Vibe!". Mr. Lauren can you hear us? I think RL should outfit the entire cast when it comes to Broadway. In fact, I can see a limited addition Polo shirt with Walnut Grove on the chest. Maybe a line drawing of Mrs. Olsen? Charles Ingalls would have rocked a fitted polo!
Revisit your childhood and buy a ticket to Little House on the Prairie. Directed by Francesca Zambello, I know you won't be disappointed. The show is a feel good evening with one of America's favorite families. Visit the official website of Little House - and don't miss the store!
After 5 weeks at the Papermill, the show will visit 23 additional cities including Little Rock, St. Paul, & Nashville to name a few. To find out if the show is coming to your town, visit -Little House The Musical.