'Prairie Home' hits the road

Radio show broadcasts from Salt Lake on Saturday
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The radio show lovingly portrayed in a new "Prairie Home Companion" movie will stage a live show in at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City this weekend. This one won't have Meryl Streep or Lindsay Lohan, but its many fans probably won't mind at all.

They're more likely to be interested in the show's star and main writer, Garrison Keillor, and the actors, musicians and sound-effects people who make up the radio show.

Many of the show's regulars have cameos in the movie. They're not famous in the movie-star sense, partly because, well, they work in radio. So hitting the big screen, attending Hollywood premieres and hanging out with the likes of Streep "has been wild, really wild," Sue Scott, who plays many of the female roles on the radio show, said in a telephone interview from her Minnesota home.

It's doubtful even the best movie actor could do what Scott and her cohorts do each week. Like the live radio shows of old whose format it mirrors, "Prairie Home Companion" doesn't give its actors a lot of time for rehearsal - or a lot of room for error.

Scott plays everything from lusty vamps in "Guy Noir: Private Eye" bits to the more buttoned-down (at least on the surface) "Ruth Harrison, reference librarian." She doesn't find out much about the content of that week's show until Thursday. The cast does a read-through on Friday and returns for another rehearsal on Saturday before the live taping that evening.

Sometimes, on the intervening night, Keillor has completely reworked the script. Sometimes, he does it on the fly. "He says, as we go out onstage, 'I'm going to cut this; just follow me,' " Scott says.

Given all that, a lot could go wrong - but it rarely does, Scott said.

"I've had flubs. Trips and flubs," she said. "You just hate that. It's like the figure skater who flubs a triple salchow - you think about it for the rest of the script."

Fortunately, "Garrison is the king of the save," and between him and the rest of them, boo-boos get covered up so well listeners don't even know about most of them. "There can be those kind of train wrecks, but we all help each other out."

Keillor wrote on the show's Web site that "it's the crew who's cool, calm and collected. They do a great job of fending off catastrophe. I am rather jittery and discombobulated, but having a pretty good time nonetheless. . . . Once you've had small children, doing a live show is not such a big thing. Nobody in the Shoe Band ever comes up to me weeping over something another band member has said to him. None of them run around in circles screeching. Or throw up. Or suddenly disappear. That would be disconcerting."

Scott, who grew up in Tucson, Ariz., studied theater in college and went on to join acting troupes in the Midwest. She was already doing public radio work when she auditioned for "Prairie Home" in 1992, the year Keillor brought it back to Minnesota from New York.

"I always did multicharacter roles, even in theater - that was always my strength. I always did goofy voices and that kind of thing," Scott says. "I try to be very creative in choosing every voice, just to have fun with it and give each character a vocal personality."

Not having grown up in the Midwest (as did Tim Russell, who often plays opposite her), Scott says she had to learn the accent, which she often is required to lay on thick.

She doesn't mind being the only woman in the regular cast, which also includes sound-effects men Fred Newman and Tom Keith as well as members of the Guys' All-Star Shoe Band.

"They're all like my brothers," she said, noting that there are plenty of women among the show's production staff and guest artists.


Contact Christy Karras at ckarras@sltrib.com or 801-257-8604.

  • "A Prairie Home Companion" will perform its live show at Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City, Saturday at 3:45 p.m.

  • Tickets, $45 and $60, are available at 801-355-ARTS.