The Greek Theater in Los Angeles is a unique venue; an outdoor amphitheater (hence it's name) like the Hollywood Bowl, but small enough at under 6000 seats to feel intimate, which is the theater's real charm. If you've never been there all I can say is "go."
The experience brings your heroes down to size in the best way possible. You see that they are normal people just like you, standing unceremoniously on a nearby stage. And then of course they do their magic.
This Friday Garrison Keillor brought his tried and trusted band of radio renegades to the Greek Theater and broadcast live across the nation his original review; The Prairie Home Companion.
It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable nights of theater in my life.
It's not just the way Keillor, who at 71 started the show by walking from the stage through the entire stadium to the back row while singing America the Beautiful and having us all join in, nor the brilliant house band run by music director Richard Dworsky, or regular fixture Greg Brown singing his blues, or the guests the Wilson Sisters (the rock band Heart) singing some great folk music, or his classic comedy sketches supported by Tim Russell and Sue Scott, or the manic live radio sound effects by Fred Newman, or the well known performances of Guy Noir Private Eye and the news from Lake Wobegon. It is the feeling that you were in the hands of a master story teller. A master of ceremonies who at each moment will tell the right joke, ignite the band, kick start the comedy, turn the energy up or down as needed, switch gears from laughter to sadness, and then catch you just as you thought you were going to fall with the perfect line and a sprinkling of wisdom.
His timing is perfect, his energy is endless and there isn't a wasted moment in a three hour show.
We were subjected to hysterical songs that skewered the many local cities and freeways, a ballad about a couple who had to break up because their commute to each other was too long, Guy Noir was called to Hollywood to shoot his screenplay, and in Lake Woebegon it was Graduation time, perfect for the calendar date of the show.
Coyotes howling in the hills behind us as the darkness crept in got a laugh, but Keillor got a bigger laugh as he asked Fred Newman to respond in kind which he did and the coyotes shut up. Keillor takes long slow strides as he moves across the stage and his quick wit and kindness effuse his endlessly fresh material.
When you see him live, in his signature red sneakers and light brown suit, you see tidbits like him dropping his script pages as each comedy sketch ends and crew members scurry to collect them, his genuine and familiar looks of bemusement, the smiles of surprise and laughter from his radio team as he throws them unexpected lines and the moments of genuine love and connection with his regulars and guests.
A Prairie Home Companion debuted in 1974 and except for a brief hiatus in the 80s has been a weekly fixture on American radio for 40 years. The old style story telling from a mythic time of perfect American values told through the prism of Keillor's contradictory and scathing wit was a hit that has won numerous awards. It's quite a thing to see entertainment so fresh that has become a part of history as well. Keillor doesn't have the stiffness or attitude that makes you feel he cares about being a part of history, I don't think he does. He just finds the world amusing and has to tell you why. But in these uncertain times when one doesn't agree with all the choices made in the world, last night for the three hours that he commanded the stage, I felt I was watching history that I'm a glad to be a part of.