December 2, 2006.By Ed Huyck, Talkin’ Broadway.
With the holiday season now in full swing, it's time for the annual rite (or rites) of theater – Christmas shows. With dozens of companies in the Twin Cities area it seems that nearly all of them have some kind of holiday program designed to bring in the audiences during late November and through December.
The always-strong Theatre Latte Da brings back its nearly venerable A Christmas Carole Petersen for a seventh go-around this year. Creator and lead performer Tod Petersen has honed his holiday-season memories to a fine point over the years, crafting a tight show that runs a full gamut of emotions without ever feeling forced. Petersen uses his youthful memories of growing up in Mankato (a small city about an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities) and mixes it with Christmas experiences as an adult. Along the way, he and a talented trio of "Carolettes" sing a collection of Christmas tunes that expertly mix the emotions the season brings – joy, hope, melancholy, sadness and so many points in between.
Petersen centers the performance on his mother, the titular Carole, who comes off as the quintessential Minnesotan: practical, loving to the point of smothering, and fiercely proud of her family. Like many children, Tod rebels as an adult, becoming a bit of a Scrooge about the season. Through it all, we are treated to a number of strong memories, from Petersen's first acting gig (as one of Scrooge's school chums in a community theater production of A Christmas Carol) to the family's annual caroling excursions to excerpts from the family's annual mimeographed Christmas letter.
Aiding Petersen are the Carolettes – a trio of talented Twin Cities performers who tackle a wide swath of material. Jody Briskey (recently seen as Mama Rose in Theatre Latte Da's terrific Gypsy), William Gilness and Randy Schmeling handle their varied tasks with aplomb – whether vamping it up as Briskey does in "Surabaya Santa," taking a maudlin turn with Joni Mitchell's gorgeous "River," or joining with Petersen for a Partridge Family-themed "My Christmas Card to You."
Co-creator and director Peter Rothstein adds nice touches throughout and – along with the performers – make the simple stage, decorated with garland and dressed in holiday read, come alive with the spirit of the season.
A Christmas Carole Petersen ends a terrific year for Theatre Latte Da, who is smoothly moving from one of the best little theaters in the Twin Cities to simply being one of the best theaters in the area. Petersen's warm, but honest recollections of the holidays are a perfect way to celebrate this time of year – and enjoy the success this theater has crafted.
A Christmas Carole Petersen runs through December 30 at the Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets are $15 to $29. For tickets and more information, call 651-209-6689 or visit www.latteda.org.