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Prairie Lights

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Prairie Lights, Stage Left Theatre, at the Theatre Building Chicago. If you're going to see only one holiday musical about religious tolerance and family affection this season, by all means make it this one. Librettist Susan Lieberman has converted (no pun intended) her Emmy-nominated teleplay Prairie Latkes into an earnest, homespun, good-hearted stage show, with music by Rosalie Gerut and lyrics by David Rush.

It's 1905, and orphaned sister and brother Rose and Ben arrive from New York to join a childless Jewish couple in a small Nebraska town, coming face-to-face with religious prejudice both real and imagined. Abe is the jocular owner of a dry-goods shop who tells his wife, Sophie, that the secret to their success is "we don't follow the Jewish calendar and stop every other day." His devout newly adopted son is aghast and attempts to bring Abe's faith out of the closet, setting off a string of mini disasters, while Rose is falling in love with hardened fellow orphan Andrew. Finally, in the tradition of It's a Wonderful Life, all the townsfolk--even the suspicious, rigid banker--come together in a love-and-latke fest.

The songs are adequate if not memorable. But Shana Harvey as Sophie offers a gorgeous, searing rendition of "Mama, Good Morning," in which she dreams of the day Rose and Ben will treat her like a real mother. Drew Martin's tight, intelligent staging captures the sweet, simple tone of Lieberman's story without sentimentality.

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