Most Saturdays for more than a generation, Garrison Keillor has held radio listeners rapt near the close of his live show “A Prairie Home Companion” with 15 minutes of homespun humor called “The News from Lake Wobegon.” In those monologues, he has introduced a host of locals, from Clarence Bunsen to Pastor Ingqvist to Bruno the fishing dog.
But to see Garrison Keillor do his show, sing his songs, tell his stories, you had few options:
• Fly to St. Paul, Minn., to catch “PHC” at the Fitzgerald Theater;
• Find the show on one of its tour stops; or
• Get to Manhattan’s Town Hall in April or December when the show makes an East Coast pilgrimage.
On Thursday, your options get a little easier when “A Prairie Home Companion” is “cinecast” to more than 500 movie theaters nationwide, including the City Center in White Plains and New Roc City in New Rochelle. For the uninitiated, a cinecast — which sounds like something you’d order at Starbucks — is a live event broadcast to a cinema.
In this case, it’s Keillor’s American Public Media radio show that can be heard live on Saturdays — just two days early, on a big screen and in high-definition.
Being a shy Minnesotan, and a Lutheran, and, well, Garrison Keillor, has meant that the radio star doesn’t really get a charge out of watching himself on screen.
“I never have, but I think it’s time that I should,” he says. “I’ve never seen the show and I’ve become curious about it, after 35 years, to know what it is people see when they come to it.”
He says he agreed to have the show cinecast, “because I saw the Metropolitan Opera cinecast of ‘Eugene Onegin’ long ago and it was just the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen in a movie theater. I’m not Renée Fleming and I’m not Dmitri Hvorostovsky, but I was just really moved by this and I believe in live entertainment and I think that this has a place in the world. The live TV variety show is dead. Somebody will revive it, but I won’t. And I’d like people to be able to see this show because there isn’t anything quite like it. That’s just a fact and I’m sorry about that, but it’s true.”
Thursday’s live show — which will get an encore cinecast on Feb. 9 — will be taped for the radio and broadcast in the show’s usual time slot. Locally, on WNYC (AM 820 and FM 93.9), from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m. Sundays (on AM 820).
Tickets to the live cinecast — from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday — are $20; the encore, $18.
Those listening on the radio all those years might have thought Keillor was reading those stories.
They’d have been wrong.
“They assume that I am reading a monologue or that I must have a teleprompter, but I don’t,” Keillor says. “To me, this does not seem so remarkable. To me, this seems no more remarkable than Tony Bennett standing up and singing without using cue cards. It’s just how this is supposed to be done, that’s all.
“You should be able to stand up in front of an audience and talk to them,” he says. “If you can’t think of anything during those awful moments when you can’t remember what you were going to tell them, then you should find some other line of work. This is my line of work. You walk out in front of an audience and there they are. And they’re glad to see you and you just sort of ride that wave and don’t shoot yourself in the foot.”
The guests for Thursday’s cinecast include Elvis Costello, Robin and Linda Williams, Jearlyn & Jevetta Steele and Heather Masse. The Guys All-Star Shoe Band, a PHC fixture, will add a few horns, Keillor says, and the show will employ two sound-effects men — Tom Keith and Fred Newman — and its customary company of radio actors.
Another show fixture, in which Keillor reads greetings written by the audience, is going “cinecast,” too, with submissions from the Internet.
Lake Wobegon, Keillor tells his audience weekly, is “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.”
On Thursday, all the actors are in hi-def, all the sound is Dolby and all the seating is stadium.
If you go
What: “A Prairie Home Companion” cinecast in HD.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 4 live. Encore presentation 8 p.m. Feb. 9.
Where: City Center 15: Cinema De Lux, 19 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains (914-747-6000); Regal New Roc City 18, 33 Le Count Place, New Rochelle (914-235-5106).
Tickets: $20 for Feb. 4 live; $18 for Feb. 9 encore.
Submit a greeting
Halfway through his radio show, Keillor reads greetings from the audience to those listening at home. In the cinecast, he’ll read greetings submitted on the “Prairie Home” Web site.
Photo by Dana Nye: The cast of “A Prairie Home Companion” includes, from left, Fred Newman, Tim Russell, Sue Scott and Garrison Keillor.