Spokane Valley Summer Theatre returned to the stage last weekend with “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical.” A regional debut, the musical was adapted by Rachel Sheinkin from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series with music by Rachel Portman and lyrics by Donna di Novelli.
Three performances remain this weekend at University High School, 12420 E. 32nd Ave., Spokane Valley, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The audience was clearly thrilled to be back, already buzzing with anticipation as the first notes floated out of the orchestra pit.
And after more than a year of waiting, who could blame them? I’d certainly be lying if I said there weren’t tears forming in my eyes as the curtain rose. Just before, I heard a little voice behind me loudly whisper, “This is so exciting!”
The opening number, “Thunder,” was exactly that. Watching Laura (Jennifer Tindall) run and jump around the stage, singing and filling the space with such a presence all the while, was uplifting from start to finish, and the next piece, “Up Ahead,” lost none of that momentum.
The choreography and staging flowed seamlessly as the audience watched Ma (Patti Mortier) and Pa (Steve Mortier) Ingalls lead their three daughters west toward a settlement in DeSmet, South Dakota, through the next few pieces. Seeing the Mortiers onstage together was a real treat; they constantly wowed the audience. I could’ve listened for hours.
Ma and Pa dream of a better life for their children, but life on the western frontier is filled with uncertainty. Each group of newcomers has to fight – sometimes literally – for their right to settle. But if they can manage to hold their land and cultivate it for five years, the land is theirs. The difficulty of that burden only becomes clear later. But luckily, neighbors are willing to lend a helping hand.
Young Almanzo Wilder (Dakota Moses) proves particularly courageous. Moses’ voice sparkled. As the Ingalls girls begin school, an amusing sort of “Wicked” dynamic builds between Laura and a bratty local girl, Nellie Oleson (Sophia Williams), who gradually becomes not only masterfully annoying but also so endearing. I genuinely found myself looking forward to seeing Nellie. And the little voice behind me agreed wholeheartedly: “That was the funniest thing ever!”
The eldest Ingalls girl, Mary (Callie Turner), is a particularly gifted student. But the youngest, Carrie (Alex Read), struggles to stay still in class, and when the teacher harshly makes an example of her, Laura can’t help retaliating.
An early winter brings a whole manner of ills to DeSmet. And what it takes away is worse. Recovering from Scarlet fever, Mary loses her vision. Singing “I’ll be to you the older sister now,” Laura resolves to raise the money for Mary’s Braille education. All of Mary and Laura’s duets were stunning and never failed to tug at all the heartstrings.
From start to finish, every scene and song in the show (apart from a piece I assume must be titled “Almost,” which I struggled to enjoy through no fault at all of the performers) was a delight to experience. And doubly so, as throughout the show, each member of the cast seems to be having so much fun that you might just want to get up there and join them.
For more information, visit svsummertheatre.com or call (509) 368-7897. Admission: $39 for adults; $37 for seniors and military; and $22 for students with ID.