Thursday, August 21, 2008

Searching for Letters from Laura Ingalls Wilder

During her lifetime as an author, Laura Ingalls Wilder responded to every fan letter she received, until the last six months of her life. These letters were scattered to the four winds and while some have come safely to rest in museums, archives, and libraries across the country, others currently reside in scrapbooks, the backs of drawers, in musty files, and in old shoe boxes tied up with ribbon.

Please help make sure those letters aren't lost forever. In conjunction with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, Sarah Uthoff is seeking photocopies of Laura letters. These would be scholarly study copies only and will be deposited in the newly built archive room at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. She is also seeking photos of any of the Wilder museum sites pre-1985 or photos of any special local Wilder events, such as gingerbread parties that you might have attended. You may send the photographs by mail, or scan them and send by email.

Send photographs and/or photocopies of letters to:
Sarah Uthoff
P.O. Box 111
Solon, IA 52333

Send scanned photographs to:

For more information, visit Sarah's site at Trundlebed Tales.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Little House on the Prairie, the Musical: A Review


This review contains some information that those who plan to watch the performance may not wish to know in advance.

The Little House on the Prairie musical opens tonight at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after previewing July 26 through August 14. Although critical reviews from theatre experts abound, I have yet to see a full review from the perspective of the "Little House" fan.
The theatre is small and cozy; the Homestead Act of 1862 is displayed on a screen before the performance begins.

The storyline focuses on the Ingalls' quest for "free land" and the struggles they and fellow homesteaders endured trying to prove up on their bet with Uncle Sam. The producers did an excellent job capturing the pioneer spirit -- their devotion to the land and to overcoming hard times. However, I feel they fall short when it comes to making an emotional connection with the audience.

The early scenes were very cute and they did an excellent job incorporating humor throughout the play; but the play failed to make me connect with the characters on a deeper level. It often made me laugh, but it failed to make me cry. The characters are caricatures rather than real people. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable experience and I would love to see it again.

The “Little House” purist will be both pleased and displeased with the script. Pleased because a great number of lines in the dialogue come straight out of the “Little House” books, many lines word for word the way Laura wrote them. Displeased because, as in any dramatic production, liberties were taken and changes were made.

Virtually every scene in the musical comes from the books; however, they are not always chronological. There is some logic behind the changes that were made, however. For example, Mary does not go blind until the Long Winter, but it is obvious that this change was made because her character needed to be developed (as the good little girl who loves to learn and wants to be a teacher) so that the impact that her blindness had on her could be better understood by the audience. Mary contracts scarlet fever, and this scene was developed by pulling in bits from the “fever ‘n’ ague” chapter of Little House on the Prairie. Again, there is some logic to this – a doctor had to be called for Mary anyway, Laura doesn’t ever name a doctor in De Smet or Walnut Grove; so rather than invent a fictional doctor, the writer simply pulled in Dr. Tann from a previous book.

The story begins with the Ingalls’ decision to leave Walnut Grove. We see the building of the railroad, finding and filing on the homestead claim, the town springing up around them. Laura is portrayed as a little girl during these early scenes of the musical, and quickly becomes characterized as – for lack of a better word – wild. Kara Lindsay is energetic and animated, to the point that I didn’t really find young Laura to be very likable. However, as the plot proceeds, Laura grows up and with some effort, is able to tame her wild side. The older Laura is a much more likable character and I was quite pleased that she calmed down.

Jenn Gambatese plays an outstanding Mary. As the older sister, her behavior sharply contrasts with Laura’s and Carrie’s in the early scenes; while they are high-strung and childish and complain about having to go to school, Mary is more mature, and recognizes the opportunities that living near a town and going to school afford her.

Carrie is played by Maeve Moynihan, and her role seems to be the cute little sister that provides occasional comic relief. Grace is not included in the production at all.

Melissa Gilbert is clearly the draw of the play, the reason that ticket sales soared and the show’s run was extended. Two big questions seem to be on everyone’s mind: can she successfully make the shift from being tv Laura to becoming Ma on stage, and can she sing? The answer to both questions is not a simple yes or no.

Acting for television and movies is very different from live stage performances. This style difference between Melissa Gilbert and the other actors is noticeable, yet not necessarily in a negative way. Gilbert is not as lively and animated as the other characters, but because she plays Ma, this actually works out to be a good thing. It would really have bothered me to see Ma Ingalls jumping around the stage as Pa and the girls do, because that would simply be so out of Ma’s character. So I felt it was a very positive thing that Melissa Gilbert’s style was a little different, because it helped to establish Ma’s character more accurately.

As far as her singing, her voice lacks the depth and strength of the other performers, but she shows natural talent and is actually quite good, especially considering her lack of experience in this area. As she becomes more confident and receives more training, I think there will be steady improvement throughout the show's run, making a good voice even better. It’s actually a great risk for her to branch out and do this, and I applaud her for having the courage to do so.

One concern I had beforehand was that I would find it difficult to dissociate Gilbert from the role of Laura, and that this would interfere with my ability to enjoy the performance. I did not find that to be the case; I had no trouble at all viewing Gilbert as Ma, she fell quite naturally into the role and delivered a splendid performance overall.

The relationship between Ma and Pa was very well done; I appreciated the effort made to balance Pa’s itching foot with his love for his family. Steve Blanchard made a wonderful Pa, complete with beard. I only wish that more emphasis had been placed on Pa's fiddle; with this being a musical, it was the perfect opportunity to showcase the importance the fiddle had in helping the family get through their many trials, and it barely received a brief mention.

While my overall impression of the musical was positive, there were three major negatives.

The first followed the scene where the girls are sent home from school for rocking the seat. Pa yells at them for making trouble in school, and his tone was very cruel. It really took me aback and I felt it was very out of character for Pa.

The second occurred while Almanzo was driving Laura back and forth from the Brewster School. After Laura informs Almanzo that she no longer intends to go with him after she’s home for good so he can save himself these long drives if he wishes, Almanzo doesn’t come back! Laura stays at the school till it’s over, then Mr. Brewster takes her home. Meanwhile, Almanzo is taking Nellie Oleson for buggy rides. This twist was designed to create a bit of tension, to make Laura realize now that she no longer has him that she misses Almanzo, but it’s a change I definitely didn’t like.

The third was after Laura finished her teaching stint at the Brewster School. It was made clear that she was miserable there, but held out only to help Mary go to college, just as in the books. However, when she returns from teaching, Ma and Pa inform her that Mary has earned a scholarship and her money isn’t needed, and now she can buy herself a new dress. I hated the way this was done because it made Laura’s sacrifice worthless.

By the way, for those die-hard Wilder fans wondering how Almanzo’s name is pronounced in the show – it’s Al-MON-zo. (The real Almanzo Wilder pronounced his name Al-MAN-zo.)

The audience appeared to enjoy the production. Smiles were on many faces as they watched the performance; it gave me great pleasure to hear the audience roar with laughter at many lines that were actually straight from the books. Laura has such a clever wit, and it was splendid to see it appreciated. I did hear some rumblings afterward about, “Well that’s not how it was in the books”, but overall it seemed to win the approval of the audience.

Rumor has it that the show is slated for a national tour next year, and may end up on Broadway in the future, as well. I definitely feel a national tour is warranted, and will be very successful. I also think that if in the future the script is made available for purchase, many regional or high school/college theatre groups would be interested in performing this. Whether or not it would be a hit on Broadway, I'm not so sure; I'm not sure it really fits the Broadway crowd.

In closing, I would just like to repeat that my overall experience was very positive, and I was thrilled to see "Little House on the Prairie" live on stage. I would love to hear others' thoughts about the musical, and invite you to post your comments below if you have had the opportunity to see it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Carrie" Comes to Plum Creek

"Hi, I'm 9 years old and last year in the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant in Walnut Grove, MN, I played Carrie Ingalls," wrote young Victoria Bayer just before Christmas. She was writing to Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush, the twins who shared the role of Carrie in the Little House on the Prairie television series. "Have you ever been to the pageant?" she questioned.

Lindsay Greenbush promptly responded. "No, but I would love to attend." A week later, the announcement was official: The Greenbush twins would be making a special appearance at Walnut Grove on July 19, 2008.

Nearly 1000 fans turned out to see the twins, who hosted a question and answer session, in addition to touring the museum and watching the pageant, "Fragments of a Dream." A special moment occurred when the girls, having grown up playing along television's version of Plum Creek, stood on the banks of the real Plum Creek, on the Ingalls family's farm.

We have invited Victoria to share her experience of meeting the Greenbush twins in person.

Hello! I am Victoria Bayer. I am ten years old and I interviewed Lindsay Greenbush, who played Carrie Ingalls (along with her twin sister Sidney) on the "Little House on the Prairie" TV series.

It all started when I played Carrie last year in the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant in Walnut Grove, MN.

My dad found the email fan club group for the Greenbush Twins and we joined it together. There are lots of people on the list. I asked the twins if they'd ever been to Walnut Grove and they said no. They asked for some information and I sent the Walnut Grove link to them.

Then a little while later we got an announcement that they were going to come. I was really excited. All of the pamphlets and billboards said "guest star appearance."

My mom told me I should ask to interview them for a homeschool project and they said yes. So I emailed them my questions and Lindsay emailed me her answers. We printed them out and gave them to the newspaper editor and he published them in the Sentinel Tribune.

They came to Walnut Grove while the pageant was going on and they gave a speech and answered questions at the park. The girl who played Carrie this year and I got to go on stage with them. I asked them what they liked to do for fun back stage. They said they liked to play backgammon and later they had a weight room. They weren't supposed to be in there but they were bored sometimes and would use it while the rest of the cast was filming. Sometimes they'd have a weight in the air and when the buzzer sounds that means you have to be quiet. They couldn't put it down because that would make noise so they'd have to keep it in the air the whole time or really, really quietly put it down.

After they answered questions, they signed pictures of themselves. There was a half a block long line and I got to get an autograph immediately. That made me feel lucky.

Some newspaper reporters took my picture with Sidney and Lindsay. The Marshall reporter chased me down and she kept shouting "pigtails!" to get my attention since I had braids in my hair. Then she asked my name and phone number and later she called and asked more questions over the phone. When the paper came out, we saw that I was on the front page with the Greenbush twins and the headline was "Thanks to Victoria."

It was amazing to be a part of this. I'll remember it forever!

Sidney Greenbush, Victoria Bayer, and Lindsay Greenbush
Used with permission.

Thank you, Victoria, and thank you, Lindsay and Sidney for generously giving of your time to meet your fans in Walnut Grove!

For those who missed out and are interested in meeting Lindsay or Sidney, the following upcoming appearances are scheduled:

August 23, 2008: Lindsay Greenbush will be appearing at Pioneer History Day in Simi Valley, California. Autograph sessions and a Q&A session with Lindsay will be scheduled throughout the day. Click here for details.

September 5-7, 2008: Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush will attend Holy Terror Days in Keystone, South Dakota. Call (605) 343-7800 for more information.