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The Portable Pioneer and Prairie Show

The Portable Pioneer and Prairie Show," the first production of the Melting Pot Theater, makes an amiable (if ungainly titled) calling card for the fledgling Off Broadway company. Cleanly staged by Lori Steinberg and charmingly performed by an ensemble of actor-musicians, "Pioneer" is a sweetly old-fashioned musical no less likable for its modest range. The show, commissioned and first produced by Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater in the early 1970s, examines the immigrant experience of a young Swedish couple from their homeland to a government-issued patch of Minnesota farmland. Actually, "examine" might be too strong a word: Despite the requisite tragedies (a storm-tossed voyage, crops destroyed by locusts, the fever-death of a baby son), the show remains unwaveringly benign, its sketch/revue format delving none too deeply into any particular emotion beyond a general feeling of inspirational uplift.

With:
Cast: Leenya Rideout, Sean McCourt, David M. Lutken, Larry Cahn, Susan Emerson, Samuel D. Cohen, Rebecca Rich.

But authors Mel Marvin and David Chambers devised an efficient and clever conceit to present this prairie history: In the 1890s, the grown children of the Swedish couple form a traveling prairie show (such things actually existed) and tell their family experience through song.

Each cast member plays various roles, not to mention more than one musical instrument (the show music is tinged with the folk stylings of a banjo, upright bass, guitar, harmonica, piano and, on occasion, a tuba). If some cast members’ acting skills occasionally falter, the musical performances don’t.

Against an attractive painted backdrop of wheat and sky, the show looks much better than its limited budget might suggest. The Melting Pot Theater Company, which as its name indicates is dedicated to productions of ethnic diversity, is off to a promising start.

The Portable Pioneer and Prairie Show

NEW YORK

Production: A Melting Pot Theater Company presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Mel Marvin, book and lyrics by David Chambers. Directed by Lori Steinberg. Set, Ann Keehbauch

Creative: Costumes, Sue Gandy; lighting, Debra Dumas; musical direction, Greg Pliska; choreography, Cynthia Khoury; production stage manager, Jennifer N. Rogers. Artistic director, Larry Hirschhorn. Opened Feb. 7, 1997, at the Theater of Riverside Church. Reviewed Feb. 27; 199 seats; $20. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast: Cast: Leenya Rideout, Sean McCourt, David M. Lutken, Larry Cahn, Susan Emerson, Samuel D. Cohen, Rebecca Rich.

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