Little House On The Prairie: The Musical

Prairie dog

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE: THE MUSICAL by Rachel Sheinkin, Rachel Portman and Donna Di Novelli (Mirvish). At the Canon Theatre (244 Victoria). To February 28. $30-$99. 416-872-1212. See Listing. Rating: N

Remember that cheesy musical about Blaine, Missouri, at the heart of Waiting For Guffman? The folks behind Little House On The Prairie: The Musical obviously don’t, because their take on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and subsequent TV series feels eerily similar. Problem is, in this case the laughter’s unintentional.[rssbreak]

There’s no lack of rich themes in the story of the Ingalls family’s journey west to stake a claim, work the land, survive bad weather and personal tragedy. But writer Rachel Sheinkin, composer Rachel Portman and lyricist Donna Di Novelli are stumped by a show that lacks any tension or drive, not to mention memorable songs.

Some episodes give the rambling plot a jolt – a winter-storm journey for wheat here, a summer-fair horse race there. But the work’s early feminist message is trampled by the grating earnestness of the writing and the distracting contemporary cadences of some of the performers, who sound more Paris Hilton than Prairie.

Director Francesca Zambello’s production doesn’t give us much to look at. The set and props, which include a pair of over-used reins, look borrowed from any community theatre.

The men weather this cornball confection better than the women. Kevin Massey’s Almanzo Wilder is understated and appealing, while Steve Blanchard’s Pa is full of rugged charm. As the youngest Ingalls girl, Carly Rose Sonenclar has a dark but full singing voice that shows great promise.

Unfortunately, the production’s big draw, Melissa Gilbert (Laura in the TV series) as Ma, oversells every scene and can’t even handle her big weepie number, which seems to have a modest three-note range.

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