Friday, February 5, 2010
A Prairie Home Companion at the movie theater
We saw the Live Cinecast version of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion last night at our local movie theater, with guests Heather Masse, Elvis Costello, and Jearlynn and Jevetta Steele. It was a quiet, somewhat melancholy show, I thought, especially compared with the live version we saw here at the IU Auditorium a couple of years ago (on February 16th, 2008), when the focus was on extraordinarily talented musicians at the Jacobs School of Music. Garrison made a comment about those things that always seem to be just out of reach: "glamor, a Super Bowl victory, and health care reform." The somewhat somber mood seemed fitting for this particular moment in time, though, a welcome contrast to irrational exuberance and all forms of hyped up "reality" on so many screens.
It is fascinating to contemplate the coordination of the abundant artistry and talent on the set of A Prairie Home Companion. The timing and pacing are tight and graceful; the live show allows you to see the script falling on cue from Sue Scott's hands as she reads her lines; the sound effects guys seem like familiar friends; Rich Dworsky, at the piano, centers and smooths the activity around him.
I loved the duets Garrison sang with the radiant Heather Masse (of the Wailin' Jennys): "My Life" by Iris DeMent and "If You Were Mine" by Ann Reed. Elvis Costello sang some great original tunes. The Steele Sisters are always wonderful.
A pre-show tour with Garrison of downtown St. Paul, in the area around the Fitzgerald Theater, was a special treat for those of us who know the landmarks of that city, including Landmark Center, Mickey's Diner, and the Fitzgerald Theater. Garrison gently brushed the snow off the bronze life-sized statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I've always felt connected to A Prairie Home Companion, in part because of Twin Cities musicians I've known who've appeared there over the years: Peter Ostroushko, Robin and Linda Williams (who were featured in this performance), Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson, Cal Hand, Mary DuShane, Rod and Katey Bellville. It's a religious experience for me, somehow, about the passage of time, a recurring theme in the Church of Garrison Keillor. He's a preacher of something I'm trying to put into words: a unique mixture of nostalgia, gentle ribaldry, common absurdity, and a fierce politics in defense of some kind of democracy that seems ever more elusive.
One of the highlights of the Live show we saw here in 2008 was singing the "Star Spangled Banner" together to warm our voices before the taping began. Keillor mentions the desire to do some of that audience singalong the next time they tape a film version.
If you go to this link, you'll find a fun cartoon by artist Chris Monroe of "Violet Days," called "Prairie Home: A True Story." Sweet. She effectively captures the moody blues terror of the midnight writer: look how his hands are attacking that keyboard!