Despite the weatherman predicting a blizzard beginning the evening of Monday, March 13th, audience members jam-packed the F.M. Kirby Center to see prolific storyteller and down-to-earth humorist, Garrison Keillor. After just one year of officially retiring from a 42 year run with Prairie Home Companion, he has returned to the stage offering audiences a new solo show titled, “Just Passing Through.”
After signing autographs and taking pictures in the lounge with fans, Keillor took the stage around 8:30 PM. Richard Dworsy, former music director from Prairie Home Companion, set the mood with his folksy and playful jazz piano as Keillor walked his red sneakers and crisp white suit onto the stage. He introduced himself as a “recovering celebrity. Not an A-list celebrity, but more like a G or E.” Then, he commented on the weather: “If we get snowed in at the theater, the eldest have preference for the good spots,” setting a playful back and forth with the audience for the night.
In a mix of cabaret, sing-a-long, stand-up comedy and storytelling magic, Keillor’s solo show began. His charismatic voice hypnotically filled the microphone with anecdotes, clever quips and humorous observations about society, bodily functions, nostalgia, death and getting older. About aging he jokes, “I feel like an outcast in a foreign country.”
At what Keillor called “half-time,” he stepped out into the center aisle of the audience and invited the audience to slip in or out of the auditorium for intermission, but coaxed everyone to stay and sing together instead. Soon, the entire place, “conservatives, atheists and liberals” were standing and singing in harmony like a well-trained gospel choir with Keillor conducting it all.
When Heather Masse (of the Wailin’ Jennys) stepped out to accompany him, Keillor’s baritone voice happily explained his love of harmonizing vocals. After many lovely duets, including Luther Vandross’, “I Can Make it Better,” Tom Waits, “Picture in a Frame” and Ann Reed’s “If You Were Mine,” Keillor lead into a story about love, death, tradition and impressing girls. His signature, sensible mid-western characterization told of an unforgettable prom night and antics in the girls’ locker room that lead to Keillor revealing a humorous poetic side. Afterward, Keillor shared some “News from Wobegon,” with a hilariously twisted mix-up between a hippie wedding and a very unique last will. The narrative combined a hot air balloon, a boat filled with religious men, a bowling ball and the solemn and heartfelt mourning of two Wobegon locals at a funeral parlor near the lake. Throughout this story, Keillor had tears, belly laughs and cheers from the room.
It is amazing how the mere presence of one extraordinary person can captivate and inspire an entire audience of people. At the end of the show, Keillor and company invited the audience to sing together again. He said, “I think the only way to close is to sing a few songs together. It’s just so great hearing you all sing.” Then he jokes, “So sweet hearing most of you…” The warm, harmonic vibrations of voices filled up the entire auditorium as everyone sang, “Goodnight Ladies” and “Happy Trails to You.”
Leaving the auditorium into the swirling, winter storm, the audience lingered, expressing their thoughts on the show: “nostalgic,” “I thought it was nice with the audience singing,” “This was hysterical,” and “He’s like a rockstar.”
Keillor may have been “Just Passing Through” Wilkes-Barre, but his show left a lasting impression that amused, inspired and offered wit, wisdom and insight into the moments in life that matter. Like a friendly neighbor who offers us a drink and coaxes us share a porch swing for an afternoon that turns into an evening, Keillor and company remind us that life is best enjoyed when it slows down for a while.
Read more of Garrison Keillor’s current work, watch videos and check out his tour schedule at: http://www.garrisonkeillor.com/ and find out more about The Kirby Center at: http://www.kirbycenter.org/theater/history/
Article by Erin L. Delaney, Digital Content and Product Copywriter.