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‘Prelude’ sends down-home message

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PRELUDE OF LOVE, by Ruth and Nathan Hale; directed by Mark Daniels; Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive; continues Mondays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Aug. 19; Saturday matinees, noon & 3:30 p.m. (except July 22); also Friday, Aug. 18, 5 p.m.; all seats reserved; tickets range from $10 to $15.50; box office: 984-9000 or HCT's Web site (www.halecentretheatre.com); running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (one intermission).

WEST VALLEY CITY — The setting for this Hale original is a small town in Wyoming, where folks near the turn of the century were probably more accustomed to being entertained by "Turkey in the Straw" instead of classical pieces by Bach, Grieg or Liszt.

But they haven't reckoned with Lillian Clement and her tutor, retired concertmaster Prof. Van Betke, who is grooming her for public appearances far beyond the local town hall.

"Prelude of Love" is closer to family-oriented drama than comedy. And HCT audiences will hear classical music movements, performed by actresses hand-picked for both their acting talents and their remarkable expertise at the keyboard.

On Saturday night, the double-cast ensemble included Lindsey Brinton, 9, as Young Lillian (her 11-year-old sister, Stephanie, can be seen on alternate nights), with Jackie Tomlinson Ward (who alternates with Melanie Richardson), as Lillian one decade later.

Between them, they give the Baldwin grand piano a real workout. During the course of the play, Young Lillian plays Mozart's Piano Concerto in F Major, No. 11, and the adult Lillian plays Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, along with a Stephen Foster medley.

Except for her tutor, nicely played by Bob Walkingshaw, and Paul (Jordan Orosz), the worldly man who hopes to become more than merely her manager, most of Lillian's circle of friends and relatives hope she'll just settle down in Wyoming.

"Prelude of Love" begins with a brief prologue in 1898, when Young Lillian is practicing in the Clement family's parlor, then shifts to the spring of 1908, when she's at a crossroads in her life.

Her father (well played by Don Cosney) sides with Lillian. He believes she can have both a brilliant concert career and a family life. But Mother (Kathleen O'Reilly Nutt) stubbornly refuses to give in. A woman's place, in her mind, is at home, cooking, sewing and raising a family.

Another key player is Grandma, wonderfully played by Ruth Hale, who alternates with Clara Susan Morey II. Grandma is full of homespun homilies. She just can't fathom Lillian spending all of her time with that "Batch" (Bach) stuff. (Morey was scheduled to perform on Saturday night, but due to a conflict, Ruth Hale was pinch-hitting.)

Lillian's best friend — the show's comic relief — is Eunice (Kristina S. Barrus), who is all a-twitter over landing a husband and just can't understand why Lillian isn't gung-ho about snagging ruggedly handsome Roy Callen (Justin Utley).

The message in "Prelude of Love" is that there's more to life than standing ovations in the great concert halls of New York or Europe — that you can, possibly, find fulfillment right at home.

Amy Glaser's elegant period costuming and Mark Daniels' tight direction give this show the Hale Centre Theatre's usual stamp of professional quality.

E-MAIL: ivan@desnews.com