We finally were ready and with only one last minute run back to the hotel room to grab the right shoes, we headed off down the street to find the Fitzgerald. Thankfully the city planners of Saint Paul were thoughtful enough to make signage to major landmarks, as the directions in my head would have taken us precisely in the wrong direction. I decided that perhaps the signs were more correct than my vague memory of Googlemaps, and a few minutes later we found ourselves approaching the grand Fitzgerald which recently celebrated its 100 year anniversary. How exciting!
|Inside the Fitzgerald Theater|
We were met at the box office by David O’Neill, our personal host and tour guide for the evening. He was absolutely wonderful, and we immediately felt like honored guests. We were given a brief history and tour of the lobby and surrounding landmarks (including a very prominent Church of Scientology), and were then shown in to the main theater where we gasped and ooh-ed as Sue Scott, Tim Russell, Leslye Orr, and Garrison Keillor (lots of muffled squealing on my part here) all ran through their dress rehearsal of the show. We learned that Mr. Keillor doesn’t even begin to write the show until the Friday night before, and the whole thing gets only one or two run-throughs before going live Saturday night. The entire cast, band, and crew are so talented and flexible that they make it seem like a breeze, despite most of it being from the seat of the pants. After the rehearsal, we were escorted downstairs where we were made to feel at home by the whole cast and crew and enjoyed a hearty Midwestern meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and cheesy bread. The cast, in between hurried bites of their supper and script revisions, all came over to sit with us, ask us about ourselves, and share with us their own Alaskan experiences. We felt exceptionally welcome and almost like part of their family.
|The view from our seats|
With five minutes to go before the warm-up began, we hustled back upstairs to our on-stage seats. We were so close to the band we could read their music over their shoulders. The audience had almost completely filled the magnificent theater, and ever red, velvety chair held an excited APH aficionado. The whole room positively brimmed with energy, and I was almost vibrating in my seat with excitement. Then, Garrison Keillor took the stage, the applause thundered up to the box seats, and the warm-up began. The band played loud and hot and they filled the fifteen minutes before going on-air with marvelous energy. Then, the lights went dark in the house and the familiar voice from the radio announced that we were listening to a production from American Public Media. A count went off on stage and the band burst into life once more as Mr. Keillor announced that we were “listening to A Prairie Home Companion, live from the Fitzgerald Theater!” I’m fairly certain my heart skipped a beat.
The show was, to be brief, sensational. The Steele Sisters preformed and had the audience hopping and bobbing along to their soulful voices. Joshua Bell also preformed on violin and absolutely captured the entire house. During the pauses in his pieces, you could have heard a pin drop in the 1,000 person hall; he was spectacular. As a recreational violinist myself, it was easy to see that his talent and sheer skill are astronomical and his love for his music and sharing it with an audience is deep and genuine. He was also pretty funny during his banter with Mr. Keillor, so the entire performance was especially wonderful.
Aside from the musical guests, it was pretty neat to hear some of my favorite APHC skits live and in person. The Lives of the Cowboys was hilarious with a coffee snob fueled poetry read-off ensuing and Leslye Orr providing outstanding sound effects (she’s brand new, but it’s plain to see that she’s a keeper!). They also did a skit featuring Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian which had me in stitches. After the show, I remarked to Mr. O’Neill the coincidence of my last name and the librarian skit, and he mentioned that perhaps it wasn’t so much of a coincidence after all. Between that and Mr. Keillor reading my and Tom’s names out loud to the audience and warmly welcoming us to the show, I really felt like a rock star. I really can’t think of how it could have possibly been any better.
|So exciting to meet Garrison Keillor in the flesh!|
And yet, things somehow were even more wonderful by the time we left. As we were waiting for our photo opportunity with Mr. Keillor after the show, we struck up conversation with the very friendly crew. A man named Alan began telling us about how he had family in Juneau that had recently moved to Homer, and I shared that I am originally from Homer and wondered who his relatives might be. He told me their name and, of course, they happen to be my old next door neighbors whose children I used to babysit! What are the odds! He was blown away by this revelation and called up my ex-neighbor so we could talk to her. Several shocked minutes later, we were taking pictures together and remarking that Homer must be the Lake Wobegone of Alaska. Indeed, I can think of no better description in this case.
The cast and crew sent us away with scripts, cue cards, programs, and lots of pictures. We feel so fortunate to have gotten to share this experience with them and with each other, and of course, with you! We owe a big, hearty thank you to KUAC for sending us on this fabulous adventure and allowing us the experience of a lifetime. I will be happily pledging to their fundraising drives for many years to come. Public radio is one of those services that really cannot be fully appreciated until you immerse yourself in the hard work of its community members and supporters, and I’m proud to be amongst those who love and support KUAC (and KBBI). Thanks again, and happy listening!