Production of Cumberland County Playhouse’s “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical” began on Friday September 10th. Based on Rachel Sheinkin’s book, the story is told through the magic of music, song, dance, sets and costumes. The musical follows the lives of adventurous wild child, Laura Ingalls (Harli Cooper), her Pa Charles and Ma Caroline (Britt Hancock and Weslie Webster) and two sisters, Mary and Carrie (Heather McCall and double cast Mahayla Lantry and Sarah Hedrick) facing their adversities and celebrating their victories as they pursue the American dream of a better life on the South Dakota prairie.
Rachel Portman’s music and lyrics by Donna Di Novelli are a balance of intensity, complexity and emotion, bringing yet another dimension to the musical, which music director Ron Murphy and the orchestra expertly performs and precision.
Comedic relief is provided by Nellie Oleson (Hannah Hayes), the arrogant, wealthy daughter of the local merchant owner, played by Jason Ross. Despite her affluent social status in the De Smet colony, she is green with envy when lover Almonzo Wilder (Christian Melhuish) shows pleasant attention to Laura and her wild ways.
The Ingalls and De Smet families suffer from a harsh winter, field fires and more as they try to make a living. When Mary falls with Scarlett Fever, it changes the landscape of her bright future and her dream of teaching into a dark one when she loses her sight.
Laura takes on the role of babysitter and swears to be “good” like Mary, to put aside her wild childish ways and to be everything for Mary that she cannot be for herself. Meanwhile, Almonzo pursues Laura and is a tolerant, selfless, and reliable person to Laura as she travels to a nearby colony to teach. Laura finds herself young among students who refuse to attend school and a host family whose hostess is depressed and overwhelmed by her life in the meadow. Laura refuses to fail so that she can continue earning her salary to send Mary to attend college for the blind so that she can learn braille, adjust to her condition, become more independent, and regain her bright future. In denial of his feelings towards Almonzo, Laura abandons him and he is pursued by Nellie. In her attempt to grow up and be more like Mary, Laura loses her fervor and enthusiasm; she is losing herself and her inner wild child.
Eventually, a more knowledgeable and experienced Laura finds her way back to herself, her family and her home and comes back to embracing who she really is – a wild child who becomes “wilder”.
Cooper packs a punch on stage as Laura, giving a solid performance with all the fire, passion, and drive of a true wild child. McCall is the epitome of “good” when she portrays Mary; true and honest in his adaptation of the character. When her voice combines with Cooper’s for “I’ll be Your Eyes”, the daring yet tender harmony will envelop you and make you cry with her power and unassuming lyrics. It’s like they really are sisters and will stop at nothing to take care of each other.
As for Hayes’ performance as Nellie, she largely succeeds in creating the character you hate to love and love to watch. As Almonzo, Melhuish is endearing, kind and gentle as he loves Laura’s wild ways and encourages her to be who she is. When he says he’ll never tame him, you believe him. He absolutely delivers that love – that kind of pure, selfless love – on stage.
When Mother Webster has Cooper in her arms and they cry together as she sings “Wild Child,” it’s beyond emotion – it’s great.
Directed by Bryce McDonald, “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical” is rated G and runs through October 28. For more information on Classic Tale tickets and times, call the box office at 484-5000 or visit ccplayhouse.com.