Cinecast Review: Worth Every Dollar — A Love Letter to Prairie Home Companion


A Prairie Home Companion, written by Garrison Keillor; directed by David Stern. Performed at the Fitzgerald Theater. Copyright 2010. (Seen October 21, 2010.)

I’ve always loved A Prairie Home Companion. I remember when I was young, my mom introducing me to this show on PBS that was a radio show and vastly different than anything else I’d seen. I can’t remember if this was before or after I discovered Abbott and Costello, but it began a long love affair with audio drama/comedy. I especially loved watching these types of things, entranced by the actors doing the different voices and what ended up being my favorite part — watching the Foley artists do their magic of sound effects. It was one of the many things that helped me fall in love with theatre.

Growing up Lutheran in the Midwest, I got many of the jokes of PHC even when I was young, and loved the obvious fun everyone had doing it. But I lost touch with the show after high school for one reason or another. I fell back in love when Robert Altman released his movie version in 2006 (although I remember being a bit upset that it was presented not like the broadcasts I remember from PBS, but rather as if all these characters were real).

I tried listening every weekend when it was broadcast, but real life would intervene more times than I’d care to admit. But earlier this year, I found out that they archive the show on the website — and so Mondays at work were now brightened by listening to the archive of the weekend show.

And then came the call — they were going to do another (another? I missed one?) live cinecast — which, from their website, “beam[s] a live high-definition video feed of a special Thursday night performance from the Fitzgerald Theater (via satellite) to movie theatres” (similar projects through Fathom Events include the Metropolitan Opera and a Sing-a-Long Sound of Music). I knew come hell or high water, I was going to attend this performance — it was most likely the closest I’d ever get to seeing this show live.

Photo by Jonathunder and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, via Wikipedia.

Last night was the cinecast — and it was worth it. I was sad to see only a handful of people in the theatre with my friend and I — I had heard stories of similar live events such as concerts were sold out and people reacting in the theatre as if they were really at the event.

From the Women’s Vocal Ensemble of The St. Olaf Choir singing new words to a religious song (didn’t recognize the song, but laughed until I cried when they started the lyrics, “Lizzie Borden took an axe”) to Guy Noir’s investigation into a woman who was into marketing — and successfully marketed water from Lubbock, Texas (with ‘silt and sand for that gritty taste’), the laughs were plentiful. But with five different musical groups — including the wonderful Sara Watkins, whose CD I’ve now put on loan at the library to listen to — there was plenty of sweet and moving moments as well.

The best part for me was the no less than THREE different times Keillor gave sound effects men Tom Keith and Fred Newman a story challenge, including tales of how these men supposedly spent their off-times since they obviously make SO much money doing sound effects on the radio. Unlike the Prairie Home Collection DVDs (which, don’t get me wrong — they’re great, especially Bobby McFerrin), we were actually given close up views of the sound effects men doing their best to keep up. It made me wonder how much of this was rehearsed and how much was improv.

It was wonderful — and while not everyone in the crowd felt like they were part of the crowd (there was a couple next to me who looked at me like I was nuts every time I applauded after an act), it was better than some live productions I’ve seen lately. There’s an encore this upcoming Monday, and I urge you to go — it’s some of the best entertainment I’ve seen in a long time.

  • Clinton W Spence

    Not to be snarky, Angie, but PBS and NPR are not synonymous. (Otherwise, your commentary rings true.) BTW, you might want to try a Live Streams from my local NPR station on Saturday night from 6:00-8:00PM (EDT) or 5:00PM for you (CDT):

    • Clinton,

      I never said they were the same – but PBS did broadcast episodes of Prairie Home Companion when I was little – which is how I got introduced to it. It was only later that I realized it was broadcast on the radio as well. And like I said, I can listen live from my own NPR here – I just am very rarely ‘available’ on Saturday evenings. Thanks for the comment, though!