Friday, April 5, 2013

"LAURA INGALLS WILDER" A PIONEERING MUSICAL



On the seventh of February in the year 1867, a baby girl was born in a log cabin in Wisconsin whose adventurous spirit would soon find her traveling westward. In a covered wagon, Laura Ingalls ventured with her family from there to Minnesota and Iowa and finally the Dakota Territory.  She captured her childhood and those pioneering days in a series of stories known as the Little House Books.

To meet Laura, a spunky Annie Lutz, her daring pa Charles played by Richard Chagnon, her devoted mother Caroline portrayed byJackie Ostick and her older sister Mary and difficult friend Nellie Owens, both brought to life by Haley Greenstein, plan to travel to the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook.

This delightful musical about this beloved frontier girl and her ambitious family will be performed for one show only, Sunday, April 14 at 3 p.m.  For tickets ($10 child, $16 adult), call The Kate, 300 Main Street, Old Saybrook at 877-503-1286 or online at www.katharinehepburntheater.org.

For almost three decades, ArtsPower, a theatrical troupe devoted to children's programming using Equity actors, has had a mission to entertain, stimulate and educate.  To that end, they have produced thirty shows, adapting good children's literature into plays and musicals, performing 750 productions every year.  To date, they have entertained 12 million people in almost every state.  Some of their titles include "Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel," "Harry the Dirty Dog," "Anne of Green Gables" and "My Heart in a Suitcase."

As artistic director and resident playwright, Greg Gunning is responsible for much of the material, writing the book and lyrics, while Richard DeRosa composes the music.  The final members of this establishment are the co-founders Gary and Mark Blackman.

In this story about Laura, the goal was to show how she came to write her stories, with a target audience of 10-12 year olds, to inspire kids to say "I could do that" (write their own stories) or say "I have to read that book."  The team tries to tie the story to the school curriculum, in this case how the pioneering spirit and movement west can be illustrated in literature, history and the arts.

Another bonus with Laura's tale is its popularity as a television show, Michael Landon's "Little House on the Prairie" series which has a universal appeal and is remembered fondly. "Both children and adults can relate to and by moved by a tomboy and how she becomes one of America's most famous writers."  Laura and her folks' pioneering zeal is both "scary and exciting"  The musical shows how her attitude toward education and being home schooled changed when her older sister Mary goes blind and tells Laura "You have to describe the world to me."

The intriguing musical score includes such tunes as the adventures traveling by covered wagon in "Move On" as they try to find a new home, the tall tales about whose fish is bigger, sung by Laura and Pa, in "Fishin' " and the poignant ballad "Seein' Things I Never Saw Before" as Laura becomes Mary's eyes and lets her imagination run wild and free.  Come meet Pa's "half-pint of sweet cider."

For Greg Gunning, it has been an "interesting journey" at ArtsPower, combining his two loves:  writing and directing.  When Gary and Mark Blackman first contacted him thirty years ago he knew early on it was a "sure partnership."  Just like his protagonist Laura, he also "wants to see what's over the next hill."  He, too, is ready to pack his bags and move on to new adventures, with only two major changes:  while Laura went west, Greg went east to New York and instead of Laura's rumbling wagon, Greg travels by 747.  Both are clearly destined to conquer new frontiers.

Greg Gunning's latest frontier is the show "Jigsaw Jones, Boy Detective" while he has his eyes pealed on his next possible writing venture "The Monster Who Ate My Peas."  All vegetarians beware.
bonnie goldberg (bonniegoldberg@hotmail.com)

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