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Powdermilk Biscuits Meet Chili Dogs

Garrison Keillor's 'A Prairie Home Companion' is paying another visit to L.A.

May 28, 2002|STEVE CARNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

World-weary radio detective Guy Noir will once again be cruising the streets of Los Angeles this week, leaving Lake Wobegon behind but taking the Powdermilk Biscuits and Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie with him.

Garrison Keillor is bringing "A Prairie Home Companion" to the Greek Theatre for a live show Saturday, to be broadcast on KPCC-FM (89.3).

The variety show with skits and songs--a throwback to radio programs of the '30s, even down to the comical ads for fictional products--has become a public-radio institution since it debuted in 1974. Every week, Keillor and his soothing voice lull listeners into a dream state, transporting them to the imaginary Lake Wobegon, Minn., the archetypal Midwestern small town.

But what will Hollywood do to those Scandinavian immigrants and their well-behaved children?

"Midwesterners are very reserved and taciturn, and in a city with so many newcomers, where society is so much more fluid and where people are always hustling, reserve and taciturnity don't get you much," Keillor said from St. Paul, Minn. In L.A., "you need to learn to be attractive and charm people and put yourself forward in a beneficial way. We're not brought up to do that here. We were brought up to conceal ourselves and be wary of strangers and be modest."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 29, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 327 words Type of Material: Correction
Singer's name--The first name of singer Marni Nixon was misspelled in an article about "A Prairie Home Companion" in Tuesday's Calendar.
*

If Midwesterners of that variety are on Venice Beach or Sunset Boulevard on a Saturday night, they must be concealing themselves extremely well.

"It's fun to play with those stereotypes, but it's even more fun when you realize how much truth there is to them," Keillor said.

During "A Prairie Home Companion's" last visit to Southern California, in May 2000 for a performance at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Keillor joked about the L.A. weather, the Pasadena Freeway and Hollywood chickens. He promised more prairie views of the Pacific for this trip.

"I think I want to deal with a couple who moved back to Lake Wobegon after spending fortysome years in Los Angeles, in Lakewood. Just an ordinary couple who moved out there in the late '50s, but who always came back to work on the farm," he said.

"They had packed up and gone to Los Angeles with a very romantic notion in mind, that it was the land of opportunity. Instead, he works in Los Angeles at about the same job he would in Lake Wobegon, so there's a certain disappointment about paradise. The climate is wonderful, but you get acclimated and it's not so pleasurable--it's just the way things are."

Cindy Young, KPCC general manager, said the quirks and foibles played up in "Prairie Home's" stories and characters are simply a veneer, shielding deeper truths.

"The sense of humor that Garrison Keillor has, some people say, 'It's all small-town, how does that relate?' I think it's more human nature, and how bittersweet that all is," Young said. "I grew up in a town of 200 in Vermont, and I can recognize the characters. But people have their hopes and dreams no matter where they are."

Tickets for the Greek Theatre show, which begins at 2:45 p.m., are $75, $65, $50 and $35. Guest performers will include Grammy-winning blues, jazz and American roots musician Taj Mahal, mandolin and fiddle player Peter Ostroushko, guitarist Greg Leisz, and Stephanie Davis, a singer-songwriter who has appeared regularly on the show. Also appearing will be Marnie Nixon, a singer who dubbed Natalie Wood's voice in "West Side Story," Audrey Hepburn's in "My Fair Lady" and Deborah Kerr's in "The King and I."

The performance at the Greek begins the show's summer 2002 tour, which will take Keillor and his ensemble to the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, outside Washington, D.C.; to Kansas City, Mo.; to Kettering, Ohio; and to Tanglewood at Lenox, Mass.

"We do 19 shows a year in St. Paul," Keillor said. "You don't want to wear out your local audience."

Keillor started taking the show on the road in 1976, two years after it first went on the air. One year the cast and crew camped out in tents during their travels. Another year they lived what sounds like a bit from the program: "We were snowbound, on one tour, in Sioux Falls, S.D. We were put up in the basement of a Lutheran church. It was a long three or four days.

"We drove around in campers and stayed in hotels with one sink in the room and the toilet down the hall," he said. "We have moved up now. We don't double up."

Young said the last time the show was in town, fans without tickets lined up at 8 a.m. waiting for cancellations. Now broadcast on 530 stations in the United States, and heard by 3.36 million listeners weekly, the program has become a phenomenon since it went on the air 28 years ago, taking its name from the Prairie Home cemetery in Moorhead, Minn. Young said the tour gives fans a chance to be part of the show and see it created, up-close--an experience Keillor said they might find unnerving.

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