Thomsen Talk: “They made a musical of that?”
When I tell people that my next project is directing a musical of Little House on the Prairie, a frequent response is “They made a musical of that?” In a way, it shouldn’t be too surprising; after all, there’s a musical version of practically everything these days: The Addams Family, SpongeBob SquarePants, Grumpy Old Men…..
But there’s another way it shouldn’t be surprising that Little House has been turned into a musical. The author of the books, Laura Ingalls Wilder, developed a kind of musicality to her writing, and music itself abounds throughout the stories. In fact, the last words of each of her books are either verses or lines from songs, Pa playing his fiddle in the background, or family and friends singing together. Laura’s stories of life on the prairie were singing out to be told onstage through music.
This stage version takes its name from the popular television series that ran on CBS from 1974 to 1983, but the content is really from several of Wilder’s later books: By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years. The TV series was set in Walnut Grove, MN, whereas the musical begins as the Ingalls Family decides to move to DeSmet, SD. It is through their struggles and perseverance, that we, today, get a glimpse of frontier spirit, the building of the Midwest and the incredible fortitude it took to survive.
While people may be familiar with the characters of this musical through the books or TV series, they are not familiar with the musical itself. There’s a great challenge that comes with that… and a great freedom. Whereas Legally Blonde, which QCT produced this past summer, had a cast album and was professionally filmed and available to watch on MTV and now YouTube, there is no recording of Little House…
Choreographer Alison Shafer and Vocal Director Elizabeth Mannhardt and I sat around a piano for three and a half hours, as Elizbeth played and sung every song and piece of scene transition music, and the three of us discussed what story the music was trying to tell. Because none of us knew the score before our work on this production, we are learning it together, as we investigate every note and lyric.
With Legally Blonde, when we wondered how to solve a staging problem or wondered what something in the musical score meant, it was quite tempting to say, “well, let’s look at YouTube!” With Little House, when challenges present themselves, we have to face them head on, all by ourselves. How pioneer of us!
Like Pa, we are blazing our own trail. We are building our Little House from the ground up, and doing so is as refreshing as the breeze on the prairie.