History of Little House on the Prairie the Musical

One of the top ten posts is one simply called Musical Launched. I’m figuring that a lot of people hit that not looking for the specific musical I’m talking about, but as it’s entirely talking about news then current I wasn’t sure what I could even do to update it, so I decided to write a completely new post about the history of the musical as I know it instead and I’ll add a link on the Top 10 post.

Little House on the Prairie the Musical T-Shirt
Little House on the Prairie the Musical T-Shirt

Failed Attempt

The idea of Little House musical was not a new one. Laura’s Memories (aka the Mansfield pageant) has been a musical from the very beginning (and with a lot more have to sing along numbers than the show that came out of the Guthrie in my opinion). In addition the New York Times reported in its June 9, 1989 issue that musical based on the “Little House” books called Prairie would be heading to Broadway the following year. (It didn’t, but apparently did get as far as a complete draft of the book and a slate of musical numbers).

Started at the Guthrie

I first posted about this new musical the Guthrie was putting together when I saw the press release. My first post about it was dated November 16, 2007. The Guthrie in Minneapolis, Minnesota,  is considered a regional theater, but is an important one nationally. Many national level actors and actors come to do a run here. They put together this production and did an initial run. It was a big hit. It wasn’t in their largest theater (they have multiple theater spaces in one big building), but it was the medium size one and the initial run was extended by several weeks due to strong ticket sales.

Check out this post for a taste of what it was like to attend a show at the Guthrie:

Check out the photos from Playbill from the Guthrie production:

Read my review here:

I had also written a more formal review that I debated whether needed published too or not. I finally decided to go ahead and post it some time later when I found it languishing in my drafts after my road show experience.

Starring Melissa Gilbert

The biggest news item was when it was announced that Melissa Gilbert had agreed to join the production as Ma. Gilbert has spent a lot of time distancing herself from the Laura role, her new adult persona most strongly symbolized by her term as president of SAG, the actor union. However, she agreed to return to the “franchise” this time taking on the role of Ma. Part of this was the challenge of the role, Gilbert hadn’t ever done musical theater. The part was adjusted for her vocal range and dance ability, but you can’t say she didn’t give it her all, shortly after the national tour completed she had to have serious back surgery because her back was broken by her on stage exertions.

Early publicity about Gilbert joining the show:

Gilbert quoted “Every girl has a Laura in them”:


The show didn’t go directly into the road show. There was a gap of months before we found out there was even going to be one which is part of what I was reporting on in the post that was in the top 10. Slowly towns were added from Connecticut to Canada with many spots in between including the one I saw it at in Sioux Falls. Changes were made and some of the cast members, who either were unwilling to travel with a road production or had other commitments, were swapped out.

This NPR news story falls after the Guthrie run finished, but before the road show. It also includes snippets of various songs from the show.

Cast Visits Homesites

Since the initial production was so close to the Laura homesites in the Twin Cities, it inspired several cast members to make the trip. Most of the major cast made a trip separately or in small groups to visit the northern homesites. Actors said that it helped them understand the material to get a feel for the land. Finally during the road show the entire cast was brought up to De Smet.

The entire cast was bused up to De Smet to have a press conference at the Ingalls Homestead in June 2010. Find links to it in this post – the bottom one has video:

Musical Hits the Road

They also tightened up the production which often happens over the course of the production. They really didn’t address any of the problems I pointed out in my review, but it was a better show when I saw it in Sioux Falls. The show had ended in Fall 2008, reports of the national tour being a go and slowly the places it would stop came through February 2009, and the national tour started October 2009 and ran through early summer 2010.

Dates slowly trickled in. As I reported in this post, they had just made a booking for Canada making the road show an international one. The article link still worked from February 2009:

Report on attending the road show version in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

Sell Out of Merchandise

A couple of months after the final booking, no more news came and then there was a sale to clean out the merchandise. Apparently the company that had traveled around with them selling souvenirs believed it was over. That was the final word we’ve heard.

Next Step

So my family has a streak of theater in it, in fact my father actually teaches theater lighting, so while I can’t exactly follow the theater scene from Iowa as well as I could from New York or even Chicago, I do follow it. A show at this point, with a fairly successful one year run under its belt, normally has one of three things happen next. Will it:

  • Re-launch road show for a further run?
  • Move to Broadway?
  • Release scripts for purchase for local productions?

But none of these things has actually happened. The fact that they haven’t released the scripts yet, which could be making them money, sounds like they are hoping some sort of re-launch of either the road show or a Broadway or off-Broadway production. But I haven’t heard a further peep.

Their website frontpage is still up, but it won’t let you in. It does play a medley of the songs:

You can get to the archived version of the website here. It includes interviews with some of the people involved, their blog, etc.

Sarah S. Uthoff is main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+,LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.