My husband (A University of Minnesota Alum) and I love to attend the annual performance of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” as part of the Ravinia Festival. Although we are regular radio listeners, we always enjoy the live performance but this year was extraordinary. Read on to see why.
Arriving at Ravinia, we enjoyed the park as we usually do. We headed for the picnic area, past the Murray Theatre, observing the lawn filled with groups having their picnics on the lawn, the sculptures that we hadn’t seen before and then settled at a table and enjoyed the food we brought. It was sunny and a bit muggy as we headed for the pavilion passing some interesting sculptures that lined a path across the park.
Our seats in the pavilion happened to be next to Susan and David Hall. I asked Susan if they were at this performance for a special reason and she told me that she and her husband, David, were there both because they are long standing fans of A Prairie Home Companion but Susan was a classmate of Fred Newman who does the amazing sound effects during the program. What was quite unexpected, is that the two of them met when attending Harvard Business School.(More below)
The pre-performance part of the show began and as the band played and the audience sang, Garrison Keillor and accompanying singer walked down the aisle and into the park, greeting the audience. As they headed back to the stage, an announcement came over the loud speaker, which was then repeated by Garrison Keillor, that the U.S. Weather Bureau had issued a warning that a severe thunderstorm was headed for Ravinia park and the audience was invited to leave if they wanted to or to go to shelters that were around the park. The fans were there to see this show and looking around, I didn’t see anyone leave from the pavilion. Garrison assured the audience that the show would go on regardless of weather and if anyone wanted to go to their car, they would be able to listen to the show there.
When the “on air” sign went on and the show began there were countless references to the weather we were experiencing. When the sky turned black, the lighting lit the sky and the thunder almost shook the park, and the skies fell with heavy, heavy rain, the audience was enthusiastic in responding to the hilarious jokes, laughing and clapping, keeping time to songs by clapping and remaining focused on the great stories and performers. Umbrellas went up near the openings of the pavilion and even those of us in the center of the pavilion experienced light rain blowing past them. Somehow, the audience out in the park remained to hear the entire show and as the storm moved on the show drew to a close.
The show was so good. Early in the performance, Ivy League country singer Robbbie Fulks, sang a wonderful song when a huge clap of thunder struck and he continued, unflustered. When my daughter listened to the show in California she heard that same thunder clap. Others on the program included mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera whose singing was beautiful and who was charming, blues singer Hilary Thavis, and vocalist Lynn Peterson. In addition, The Royal Academy of Radio Actors, Tim Russell, Sue Scott, and Fred Newman, and "The Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band" were terrific in the "Guy Noir" and "The Life of the Cowboys" skits. The “News from Lake Wobegon” didn’t disappoint. Kudos to the researchers who brought some fascinating and humorous facts about famous people buried at Oakwood Cemetery, Wrigley Field at 100, Ravinia parks’ history and more.
As we left and walked through the park, I noticed people wringing out blankets, people wearing plastic ponchos, and I marveled at the perseverance of those who stuck out this powerful storm in the park. This was, indeed, a memorable performance.
Go to A Prairie Home Companion website for more information.
Go to Ravinia Festival website for more summer performances.
A bit more about Fred Newman:
Fred wrote the first incarnation of MOUTHSOUNDS in 1980, and began working as an actor, a writer, and a fairly inept puppeteer with Jim Henson, hosting many shows for Nickelodeon and Disney (including the New Mickey Mouse Club- yep, the one with Britney, Christina, Justin and JC). He created voices, music, and sound effects for the long-running Nickelodeon and Disney series "DOUG" and went on to win Aces, Emmys, Peabodys, Clios, yadda, yadda...
Photos: Leon Keer unless otherwise specified.