“Little House on the Prairie: the Musical” at Westminster Community Playhouse
Don’t Miss This SoCal Premiere Full of Community, Love, and Grit
By Shannon Cudd
The beloved story of a young woman named Laura Ingalls Wilder coming of age in the American Midwest in the latter half of the 19th century has been captivating audiences for generations; originally as a classic book series and later as popular television series still gracing the airwaves today. Now Southern California audiences have the rare opportunity to see and experience Little House on the Prairie in a whole new musical medium at Westminster Community Playhouse for its Southern California premiere.
Maria O' Connor, a board member at the Playhouse, discovered this little produced gem and brought it to the board for consideration. “I'm always on the hunt for new shows or interesting things. It was 2018 and I'm scrolling. I see Little House on The Prairie, the Musical. I looked at it and it just seemed wonderful. So I started to do some research on it and found out that it had only toured once but it had never made it to Southern California,” she recalled.
Everyone at Westminster quickly agreed this was the perfect show to produce, adding it to the 2020 season. Rehearsals even began on the production until the pandemic shutdowns hit and it had to be shelved for three years until now. Armed with a mostly new cast but the same creative team, the Playhouse is eager to tell this story now more than ever.
Director Patricia Miller was originally drawn to the project because of its familiar subject matter in a new medium. “Wow, something new to bring to people that they haven't heard many, many times before,” she considered. “I've always loved the books.”
Audiences who know the story well can rest assured the story is in good hands with someone who wants to remain truthful to the source material while making it accessible to those who are new. Characters such as snotty Nellie Oleson, handsome Almanzo Wilder, and wise Charles Ingalls are all brought to life as complex, three dimensional characters whose grit and determination help them survive this brave new life on the prairie.
Although the timing of this production was not what the Playhouse originally intended, Miller and O' Connor believe the themes of the importance of community, hard work, and determination are vital to hear coming out of the pandemic.
“I think we need stuff like this. I need to go back to our roots and remember where we came from and remember how far we've come and never forget,” O' Connor mused.
“We get so self isolated with technology, with the phones and the tablets and the computers,” Miller laments. She believes people miss out on precious moments when they are buried in their phones. “You're missing these clouds or the sunset or the way the light is coming through these trees because you're not looking around you,” she stated. Worst of all though is “missing that person on the street who needs some help.” Technology has a tendency to make us forget we are part of something bigger than ourselves which is a luxury that people on the prairie did not have. Miller believes they were all the better for it.
Community plays an important part in life on the prairie as people had to work together to survive. “I think there's so many values to be learned from the past. I think it's all about dedication and loyalty to family and the community and accepting hardships. A lot of us today want everything easy, but people then really learn to work through hardships and work together,” Miller stated.
O' Connor believes that “especially after the Pandemic, unity, being kind to your fellow man and honoring your family” are important reminders that this show exemplifies.
To get her cast in the spirit of the time period Miller had them do chores the old fashion way including making butter from scratch. She also gave them homework. ”I wanted them to all have an assignment. Go home and pick one thing to do by hand,” she explained. She trusts this helped their character development especially her younger cast members who have never lived without the benefits of modern technology.
Miller believes audiences should see this show because it is inspiring. “I think it's a lesson in bravery. We all say we want to fix the world and we want to help make it better. But you have to be brave enough to take that first step to say, what can I do? Get out of your comfort zone and go and do something,” she stated. Settlers on the prairie had to be brave enough to believe a new way of life was possible in spite of the harsh conditions. If they can do it, so can we.
O' Connor stressed this show is perfect for the whole family. “It's a family show. And if you have kids, I think it's something that you can see with your kids and have a conversation about later on about what it was like and what the lessons that you can learn from just sticktuitiveness, if that's a word. It's just a heartwarming show,” she stated.
Miller agrees and adds this production contains multitudes of “warmth. There's just a lot of love in it.”
Southern California audiences should not miss this opportunity to go back in time and experience an enduring and endearing cherished classic through a new lens.
Shannon Cudd is a writer, actor, and theater lover in Orange County, California.
“Little House on the Prairie: the Musical” Westminster Community Playhouse 7272 Maple Street, Westminster, CA 92863
May 19 - June 11, 2023
(949) 650-5269, www.wcpstage.com