How many times have I been to see a theatre piece in Los Angeles? I could probably count the times on one hand. This of course excludes shows at Upright Citizens Brigade or Groundlings as those are less shows and more of strung along make’em’ups. Shows that have been rehearsed for months and that run on talent and clever creativity, ones that take a dedicated group of people to accomplish: those are the shows I’m talking about. We had shared a little interview with theatrical director Dane Whitlock a few weeks back about his upcoming show
Little House On The Prairie-Oke Almond Grove! (That Pioneer Karaoke Musical Formerly Known As Something Else). We anticipated the show to be quite a good time–but we did not expect it to be an absolutely uproarious, energetic, laugh-until-you-cry kind of show. This is something you’re going to want to see.
As you can guess, the show is a playful satire of the successful, wholesome, red, white, and blue television show Little House On The Prairie. Like the television show, this play follows the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder (played by Libby Baker) through her tough but carefree country life. However, due to an apparently aggressive cease and desist letter from the Little House estate, all ties to the television show had to be severed. Thus, Laura Ingalls was changed to Lauren Pringles, Walnut Grove was turned to Almond Grove, and the show dwells in a perfect alternate universe that is very similar but very different than its source. The main difference? These characters break into song whenever they need to express themselves in a way that simple words cannot. Grabbing microphones and taking center stage, the countryside becomes the backdrop for funny versions of Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.” and the B-52’s “Love Shack.”
Thinking about a classic television show being broken up by pop songs is quite ridiculous. But is it as insane as it sounds? Yes–but in all the right ways. Whitlock has an extremely clever talent for weaving the songs in and out of the story–which is essentially Lauren Pringles’ attempt to win over Alonzo Wildest (Tom Lowe) from Mellie Molson (Drew Droege)–and characterizing these television archetypes in a way that nods at what we know them for and then advances them to these zany hyperboles that they really were. Mellie becomes a literal hell beast, Lauren’s blind sister is perpetually in-the-dark, and there is an odd relationship between Mellie and Lauren’s dads. Every hole in the Little House plot is stabbed through with the sharp tip of Whitlock’s wit dagger and you realize that, yes, Little House was quite an absurdist piece of American folklore.
The music–and dancing and singing–comes in as a perfect accent to the hyperbolic environment that is Almond Grove. If these characters are so wacky and weird to begin with then of course they employ popular songs as a means to express themselves. The cast does an ace job of handling the assignment of singing and dancing *and* representing American television icons and their chemistry–particularly between Baker, Lowe, and Droege and within the Pringles and Molson families–makes for an excellent watch. It’s a show that goes all the way in its absurdity and doesn’t stop to take a rest in the very full ninety minutes it is on. You have no time to stop and take a breather and you will be basically laughing the entire time because it is a piece finely crafted to be that way.
Whitlock and his cast and crew accomplish so much with so very little, too. The Cavern Club that houses the show is small and there is only a modest countryside quilt to serve as a set. Sure, there could be more in this department but everything else in the show is so committed and so on the nose that details like this are irrelevant: you are there in Almond Grove and you are Lauren Pringles’ confidante in her funny, simple life. The show also hits every beat that you want it to and fulfills every cheesy karaoke craving that you didn’t know you had. Almond Grove is a fantastic little show and you should definitely do your best to get out and see it. It’s also been extended for another weekend which means you now have four chances to do so.
You can catch Almond Grove at Cavern Club underneath Casita Del Campo on April 19, April 20, April 26, and April 27. Pick up tickets to the show here.