August 4, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 31
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Garrison Keillor brings variety to the Chateau Ste Michelle with A Prairie Home Companion
Garrison Keillor brings variety to the Chateau Ste Michelle with A Prairie Home Companion
by Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer

A Prairie Home Companion starring Garrison Keillor
July 21 @ Chateau Ste Michelle

Variety programming isn't dead, contrary to horrible TV programming like "America's Got Talent." It's just moved back to where it belongs: radio. And despite host/author/raconteur Garrison Keillor "retiring" his brainchild A Prairie Home Companion - there was much hoopla over a "Last Show" almost 20 years ago - the variety show is alive and well. And taking cruises to Alaska.

Yup. The cast and crew of the show, plus a number of die-hard fans, came to the Chateau Ste. Michelle straight from a Holland America cruise through the Inland Passage. After stepping onto the stage into the 95-degree heat Keillor probably wished he was still on the deck of his cruise ship; he managed to work a few choice comments about the weather into his introduction. It was clear he hadn't expected the heat wave, but he seemed gratified by the Chateau's overflowing audience.

If you're not familiar with the National Public Radio show or haven't seen the Robert Altman film, then you don't know that "A Prairie Home Companion" features radio comedy skits, parodies of commercials and advertising jingles, and folksy musical performances, all held together by Garrison Keillor's wry brand of humor. The series has been broadcast, off and on, since 1974, and has been on the road several times over the years. I even saw PHC twice in Honolulu.

The Chateau's stage was set with a Victorian house front, complete with porch swing and storefront signs for the fictional sponsors of the show: the Catchup Advisory Board (yes, Catchup, not Ketchup or Catsup), the American Duct Tape Council, and, for diehard fans, Powdermilk Biscuits. Say it with me: "Heavens, they're tasty!" Guy's All Star Shoe Band was there, led by Richard Dworsky. Other PHC regulars included Robin & Linda Williams, Carol Elizabeth Jones, Dan Newton, Jody Stecher, Kate Brislin, Redd Volkaert, Cindy Cashdollar, Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson. Also on stage were performers from the cruise ship: gospel vocalist Jearlyn Steele and her brother, pianist Billy Steele, and Seattle's own Klezmer sensation, the Kosher Red Hots.

Keillor also featured the winners from the cruise's talent competition and guests of note. Leslie Gregory, a fidder from a Celtic band in Saginaw, MI, performed a waltz and a reel. Naturalist Natalie Springuel talked about the marine wildlife of the Inland Passage, and poet Louis Jenkins shared some thoughts he'd had on the cruise, including a discourse on "Big Brown Pills." My favorite vocal performance came from a mother-daughter duo, Marie Tiebout and Johanna Evans. These cruise passengers from Pennsylvania sang a very funny song on how to avoid bears in the wilderness. The tune was Fiddler on the Roof's "If I Were A Rich Man," and the lyrics were taken directly from a wildlife safety brochure. They offered sterling advice like: "If the bear starts to feed on you, fight back and just hope he goes away," and "before you go out hiking, don't eat salmon or go walking in a salmon riverbed." Priceless!

As good as the vocalists and musicians always are on PHC, my favorite parts are the skits and stories. Keillor knows how to let his imagination fly, and he's created a number of characters and sketches that are Companion staples: "Guy Noir, Private Eye," "The Lives of the Cowboys," and, as always, "The News from Lake Woebegone," Keillor's fictional Minnesota hometown. It's tempting to close your eyes and let the visuals wash over you. But then you'd miss the spectacle of a little game I like to call "Stump the Sound Effects Man." It consists of Keillor sidling up to sound effects man Fred Newman, riffing off his script and calling for weird items like a harbor seal singing Led Zeppelin.

I tell ya', it's almost better than a Powdermilk Biscuit! Sorry you missed the show? I'll bet you are. But thankfully this is radio, and you can catch the broadcast this weekend on your NPR station. (In Seattle that's Saturday at 5:00 pm on 91.1 FM KXOT.)

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