Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sunbonnet Swoon: All Things Little House

I wasn't much of a tv watcher in the 1970s, so I did not get into the Little House on the Prairie series until much later on when it became available on DVD. As a child, I read and reread the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and they helped form my lifetime appreciation for historical fiction. I've always especially enjoyed American pioneer/sodbuster fiction. The minute I learned that the new "Little House on the Prairie" musical was coming to Houston, I was online ordering tickets.

My husband Tom and I attended the musical at Hobby Center on Saturday, May 8. He was not much familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder, but became a convert. We loved the show. Sure, it condensed the books into quick song bites, but what songs they were! The music, choreography and acting were bright and lively. The backdrop lighting included beautiful, evocative prairie sky abstractions. The sets were the kind that the actors take apart and cleverly rearrange, sliding walls, wagons and fences around the stage.

Melissa Gilbert, the original Laura Ingalls from the tv series, gets top billing for her part as Ma/Carolyn Ingalls, but as is fitting for the story, it is Laura, played by Kara Lindsay who carries the show. Her tomboy spunk evolves into womanhood before the eyes of the audience, as she steps up to the plate to become a wage-earner in a one room schoolhouse so the family can afford to send eldest sister Mary to a School for the Blind. Laura's romance with Almonzo is beautifully rendered, especially brought to life in the song "Go Like the Wind". Next to that song, another one that really did it for me was "Wild Child", where Ma ponders the mystery of how her tomboy daughter grew up so fast. For me, that song, right near the end of the play, was a get-out-your-handkerchief moment or two or three....

Sychronistically, I've been running into Little House tie-ins everywhere lately. There was a Pete Wells NY Times Magazine "Cooking with Dexter" column on March 29, 2010 called "Little House in the Hood" that pointed out the wonderful frontier foodie element of the book series, their well detailed renderings of hog butchering, baking, churning butter, etc. Another Little House sighting: Our book group at the West University branch of HCPL read Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen this month, and in researching the author, I learned that she found the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to be important in her process of assimilating into American life and foodways.

And by the way, honestly, I think sunbonnets are cool! They might be just the thing for Houston in the summer time: plenty of room to gather your hair up in a bun in one of those bonnets. I'll be looking for a pattern. And someday I hope to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, where the books were written. The musical has finished its run here in Houston, but if you happen to live in Dallas, Sioux Falls, Fort Worth, Atlanta or Kansas City, it's coming your way so if you have any degree of sunbonnet fever, don't miss it!

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