Award-winning comic actor and internet sensation Drew Droege, who as a demented version of Chlöe Sevigny made “it’s recently come to my attention…” such a ubiquitous catchphrase, is again skewering an iconic pop culture figure. This time his target is Nellie Oleson, that bad seed of the midwest, in the musical parody Prairie-Oke. Inspired by (but not adapted from) the series of popular autobiographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the hit 1970s TV show, Little House on the Prairie.
The musical-comedy was conceived, written and directed by twisted genius Dane Whitlock, known for Are You There, God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter, his widely-praised amalgamation of Judy Blume novels and the Carpenters songbook. Prairie-Oke is performed weekends through August 25 at L.A.’s Cavern Club Theatre. The production, which had a sold-out run in April, has even received the seal of approval from two stars of the original TV series, Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim.
Queerty chatted with Droege about the show and why the wholesome 19th century tale still has appeal for modern gay audiences.
You must have watched Little House on the Prairie as a child. What’s your favorite episode?
Growing up in the South, I felt punished whenever I had to watch episodes of Little House or The Waltons or Dukes of Hazzard. I only wanted to watch sitcoms about city life. I was always irritated with the vanilla Holly Hobby townsfolk and their homespun lessons. But I always loved Nellie Oleson. I was always on her side. The craziest episode I remember is when some medicine man named Doc Baker came to town and shoved needles into the toes of the children. It was so deliciously insane.
The TV series was such a wholesome piece of Americana. What’s the appeal for contemporary sophisticated gays?
The drama! Every episode was about someone dying from poisoned butter, or dismembering a limb because a church fell on it, or Albert freaking out about his hair. No one was okay, and I think gay people love to watch that. And Nellie was the world’s first and only child drag queen.
What is it about the story that lends itself to a musical parody?
It’s just so earnest. The characters are constantly teaching and learning lessons. Everyone’s either a victim of some sort of malady or cluelessly unaware of everything happening. There’s zero irony in Little House, which I think makes it perfect material for comedy.
Describe the character you play in the show.
I get to be Nellie Oleson — or Mellie Molson, since we had to change the names of the characters — she’s the original mean girl. She’s snotty, superior, Satan-fueled and quite horny. So, she’s basically my hero.
Since you brought it up, I understand there was a legal threat that required the title of the show be changed. What can you reveal about that?
Apparently, the people who own the rights to the material own the title Little House On The Prairie and all of the characters’ names, which is crazy, since they were all real people. Normally, it’s legal to use property when it’s considered parody, which our show clearly is. But we complied. We aren’t trying to get rich, or bring anyone down. We just want to have a good time.
Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie in the original TV series, saw the show earlier this year and described it as “pants-wettingly funny.” Are people really peeing all over themselves watching you?
Alison is actually referring to her friend, Melissa Gilbert (yes, that Melissa Gilbert), who had to run out of the theatre in the middle of the show because she was afraid of this expression becoming the truth. It was really awesome to have cast members from the show come and support us and hang with us afterwards. Getting to play Nellie Oleson in front of the Nellie Oleson, who was sitting on the front row cheering us on, was something I will never forget.
Watch a trailer for the show below.