“Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Gilbert may have starred as Laura Ingalls on the show. But she later played a different role in a stage adaptation.
That’s right, Gilbert portrayed her own TV mother 27 years after the show ended. In 2009, Gilbert starred as Caroline “Ma” Ingalls in a stage adaptation of “Little House on the Prairie.”
The experience made Gilbert have a bit of an identity crisis. Gilbert said she rather be remembered for playing Laura instead.
“I’d say it’s actually spinning out of control, back through the looking glass. And jumping back and forth repeatedly — while chewing gum and patting my head,” Gilbert told the Denver Post.
Melissa Gilbert on ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Before taking the role, Gilbert reached out to her former co-star. Theater veteran Karen Grassle portrayed Caroline in the original series. Gilbert sent Grassle an email asking her to guess who the stage producers wanted her to play.
“And of course Karen’s first guess was Mrs. Olesen,” she said. “That turned out to be wrong. It was hilarious. Then she wrote back saying, ‘Caroline? Wishful thinking!’”
Gilbert and the producers found the play performed better off-Broadway. Instead of sticking to major cities like New York and Los Angeles, the Ingalls hit the road. “Little House on the Prairie” went directly to where its biggest fans resided, in the heartland of America. And audiences turned out to watch the performances in droves, making the production a success.
“The further we get away from New York and L.A., the closer we get to the middle of this country — and the more embraced we are,” Gilbert said.
“In New York, especially, critics can make or break a show,” she continued. “Ours certainly has its dark moments because it’s about the struggles of those people who built this country and the hardships they endured along the way. But it’s not ‘Rent,’ and it’s not ‘Spring Awakening.’ We are not ‘edgy.’ And I think there is a real tendency for critics to see anything that doesn’t have that edge as cloying and sappy and saccharine.”
One of the things unique about the show is that they built the set during production. Initially, the stage was empty. But during the production, they added various elements of the town.
“We start with nothing on the stage. And throughout the course of the show, we build a home and a town and a community. That shows people if we were able to come together to do that then, we can make it through this now.”