Actor Tony Vierling finds a home in ’Little House on the Prairie’
First it was books, then a television show, and now a musical - Little House on the Prairie has lived many lives and readers and viewers alike seem to love it no matter what form it takes.
The musical opens on June 15 at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre for a week-long run. And if the fact that it’s Little House live is not enough to get you there, how about this? Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura in the television show, plays Ma in this production. It doesn’t get more surreal than that.
Veteran performer Tony Vierling is the show’s dance captain. I had the chance to catch up with him by phone this week to find out a little more about what to expect from Little House.
A great way to make a living
EDGE: Can you tell readers a little about your dance and theater background?
Tony Vierling: I’ve always, always wanted to do theater. I was eight-years-old and I went to see a play and said, "This is what I want to do." My mom took me to an audition and I got it and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I grew up in Iowa and did a lot of theater locally as a kid. I went off to Iowa State, which, as you know, isn’t known for a theater. [He laughs] After I graduated, I went off to Minneapolis and worked at the Guthrie Theater.
After that I moved to LA, worked with Disney, was on an A Chorus Line tour, and then the Guthrie called two years ago and said, "We’re doing a Little House show. Would you like to come work on it?" [Which I did] and they called again later [after that production had closed] and said, "Do you want to work on the tour?"
If you can make a living doing it, it’s great way to make a living.
EDGE: Can you tell readers a little about Little House on the Prairie as a stage show?
Tony Vierling: The Guthrie wanted to do an American theater piece for families so they took chapters of the books and strung them together. The score is very lush, with a Copland feeling. Very Americana.
Laura meets all the characters people will be familiar with. They have some hardship and some happy times and she goes off to teach to make money for her sister who has gone blind.
It’s very sweet and very family oriented. Anyone who has read the books or seen the TV show will be immediately locked in.
Working with Melissa Gilbert
EDGE: What’s it like having Melissa Gilbert in the show in the role of Ma?
Tony Vierling: Gilbert did it at the Guthrie too. It’s a perfect fit. She does a great job. She is a mother herself. One son is in the show as Willie Olson. She is great in the show and audiences love the fact of seeing her in the show. She had never really sung and dance. She took dance as a kid and sang with her family. But never on stage. But she’s a fantastic dancer. It’s really brave of her to do this and she has really stepped up to the plate.
EDGE: How do you approach a piece like this that has such a strong history?
Tony Vierling: We did do a lot of research about the time period because we wanted it to feel accurate. We did a lot of research on the social etiquette and social structure and how people related to one another. More things that would be layered into the piece.
EDGE: What is it that makes "Little House on the Prairie" so near and dear to people’s hearts regardless of age?
Tony Vierling: I don’t know specifically. But for me, it harkens back to a time... not when things were simpler, because things were not simpler, but purer. Focus was on family and work and home and all of those things combining to form a rich life. I miss that. People don’t sit around the dinner table anymore. People don’t play outside anymore. I think for me that’s it. It’s total nostalgia for a time that’s completely gone.
In the summer, as kids, we’d leave in the morning on our bikes and come home at dinnertime. It’s a very different time now.
EDGE: Can you even believe this is what you get to do for a living?
Tony Vierling: Almost every day I think I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe they pay me to go to the theater and work on the show. The whole thing is a fairy tale and getting to be a part of Little House is like being a part of pop culture. This is something I’d see on TV or in a magazine.
EDGE: What’s the biggest challenge you face in terms of this particular show?
Tony Vierling: The show itself is fairly simple in the format. But I also understudy children in the show like Willie Olsen and I’ve had to go one for them. Sitting with a slate, throwing a snake. I’m a 47-year-old man and playing a 12-year-old. It’s moments like that where I can’t believe I’m doing this. I actually played my own father and own son in two weeks. That really screws with you sometimes. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you out of a cubicle.
EDGE: Who should come to see this show?
Tony Vierling: I have seen kids there as young as 4 or 5 years old and they come in costume. It’s a cult. We have quite a following.
Little House On The Prairie opens on June 15, 2010 at the Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree Street, NE
Atlanta, GA. For more information visit the Theater of the Stars website