For every child star that has gone on to a successful performance career as an adult, be it in theatre, music or film, there are fifty who have tried to make the transition and failed — some more miserably than others. Such a performer is Melissa Gilbert, currently headlining Dallas Summer Musicals’ Little House On the Prairie, The Musical through May 22 at the State Fair Music Hall. Not only is middle-aged Gilbert’s adult acting amateurish, wooden and unconvincing, her singing is cringe-worthy. Good thing she doesn’t pipe up often. If her agent advised her to take on the singing, acting role of Ma in the musical version of her hot 70’s television show, he/she ought to be fired. I have nothing against Gilbert, per se. She is obviously a bright, motivated businesswoman, having served as President of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001–05, and currently working as the Standing Board Chair and Spokesperson for the Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition. An effective singing actress in a major nationally touring musical she’s not.
Invented clearly as “sure-fire box officer draw” by Adrianne Lobel (Frog and Toad) with Francesca Zambello’s direction (Disney’s The Little Mermaid), the show capitalizes on the nostalgia and fame of the 1970’s television show, which starred Michael Landon and perky, young Gilbert as its heroine, Laura. According to the DSM press release, the musical “had its world premiere production in August, 2008 at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, where it shattered all box-office records and sold-out for 12 consecutive weeks.” Amazing.
Minimalist set design by Lobel provides handsome settings and imaginative backdrops with projection and choreography by Michele Lynch keeps the ensemble of fifteen creating interest and energy behind the show’s seven main characters. Music, by Academy-award nominated Rachel Portman, is pleasant if forgettable. Two actors give stand out performances in the show: Kate Loprest, who performed last year in Dallas Theater Center’s Sarah Plain and Tall, infuses her character Nellie with notable verve and humor (her solo Without An Enemy is the best song in Act II); and Kevin Massey portrays Laura’s shy beau Almanzo with charm and sensitivity. He makes a dull, predictable role interesting. His singing voice is exemplary, justifying his touring credentials from the US and Europe. Kara Lindsay as Laura tries really hard to eke believability out of the hum-drum script and succeeds most as adult Laura. Young girls will emulate her ever-present toothy grin. Definitely a family-geared show, it’s one to enjoy if you remember the television series with great fondness.
Single tickets for the Dallas Summer Musicals engagement of Little House on the Prairie are priced from $15-$71, and are on sale now at The Box Office, 542 Preston Royal Shopping Center and all Ticketmaster locations. Buy online at http://www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 214-631-ARTS (2787). For groups of 15 or more call 214-426-GROUP.
Visit their website: http://www.dallassummermusicals.org