“Live From Here,”</URL> the Minnesota Public Radio show that evolved out of “A Prairie Home Companion,” took a big step away from its roots Tuesday by dismissing three longtime cast members associated with former host Garrison Keillor.
Richard Dworsky, the show’s musical director for 25 years, is being replaced by Grammy-winning producer Mike Elizondo, a protégé of hip-hop mastermind Dr. Dre who co-wrote Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova.”
Voice actor Tim Russell, who has been with the program since 1994, and sound-effects wizard Fred Newman also will be gone when the show returns to the air Oct. 6.
Keillor, meanwhile, is enlisting Dworsky — and perhaps Newman, too — as he plans a return to live performing.
Tuesday’s move is the clearest sign yet that “Live” will rely less on cornball comedy sketches and more on the eclectic musical tastes of mandolinist Chris Thile, who took over as host two years ago.
“I stand in awe and will be forever grateful to these extraordinary gentlemen,” Thile said in a statement. “Their artistry, individually and collectively, is an essential, immortal part of America’s sonic landscape.”
Another longtime cast member, Sue Scott, left the show in 2017 after 25 years. The fact that the show’s new players are considerably younger isn’t lost on Russell.
“I think it was inevitable as the show transitions,” he said. “There was definitely a demographic shift musically — which is now the predominant part of the show — and I think the new scripts will appeal to a millennial audience as well.”
MPR notes that “Live From Here” has increased its listenership among younger audiences, including a 22 percent boost among those 25-54.
Actress Serena Brook, who was hired in 2016, will take over Russell’s announcing duties. She will be joined by Mike Yard, a former contributor to “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore,” Second City veteran Holly Laurent and Los-Angeles based writer Greg Hess.
“The new mix of talent further energizes our celebration of hearable beauty and hilarity,” Thile said.
Downplaying comedy sketches
Newman, who joined the troupe in 2001, said the evolution was evident late last season when the two-hour show typically included only three sketches. In its heyday, “PHC” would present as many as eight sketches, with at least one long piece spotlighting such familiar characters as detective Guy Noir or cowboy Lefty.
“People stick the word ‘nostalgia’ on the show, but the great contribution of ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ was juvenile comedy,” Keillor said in an e-mail Tuesday. “We single-handedly brought flatulence to radio broadcasting.”
Newman said he understood the move away from that kind of humor, with each program now featuring a stand-up comic. “Chris has to make it his show. I was there in the transition to help him experiment and see what elements he wanted to carry forward. He’s a strong, brilliant musician and Chris is playing to his strengths.”
As for his dismissal, Newman said, “I can’t complain. I’m not just being Pollyannaish about it, but I’m old enough to know you don’t get good gigs like this one very often. Tim, Rich and I have all talked and agree it was a fantastic ride.”
Dworsky, whose versatility at the piano was a key component in “PHC’s” success, also expressed support for Thile. “I’m buddies with Chris and am totally supportive of anything he wants to do,” he said.
Earlier this summer, MPR dismissed three other longtime members of the “Prairie Home” team: managing director Kate Gustafson, publicist David O’Neill and Jason Keillor, Garrison’s son.
No guests have been announced for the first four shows of the new season, which kicks off in San Francisco, followed by two broadcasts from St. Paul — Oct. 13 at the Palace Theater and Oct. 20 at the Fitzgerald — and an Oct. 27 date in Lincoln, Neb.
Then the show will take a few weeks off — in part so Thile can tour Europe with his band the Punch Brothers.
Keillor has scheduled two shows Nov. 3 at Crooners Lounge and Supper Club in Fridley. Both are sold out.
They will be his first headlining gig in the Twin Cities since MPR severed ties with him last November, saying an internal investigation had found that he engaged in “sexually inappropriate” behavior with a longtime writer for “Prairie Home.” Keillor acknowledged an e-mail flirtation with the woman but contends he was unfairly treated by his former employer and seems to be inching toward a comeback.
His return is almost certain to involve the participation of some old friends.
Dworsky will perform with Keillor at Crooners. And Keillor is planning to have dinner with Newman this weekend in New York. Future collaborations will definitely be on the menu, he said.
“I’m only 76,” Keillor said. “No reason to stop having fun.”