“Steerage Song” by Theater Latte Da at the Fitzgerald Theater

June 5, 2011.By Jill Schafer, Cherry and Spoon.

Steerage Song is a new concert/theater piece created by Theater Latte Da's Artistic Director Peter Rothstein and local pianist/accordionist extraordinaire Dan Chouinard.  I'm familiar with Peter through his work with Latte Da and many other theaters in town, and I was introduced to Dan by the late, great MPR Morning Show (the spirit of which lives on in MPR's Radio Heartland).  When I heard those two names attached to this piece, I knew it would be good, and I wasn't wrong.

Steerage Song is about the immigrant experience, focusing on immigration from Europe between 1840 and 1924 (when laws were passed significantly limiting immigration to this country).  The structure of the piece is similar to Latte Da's annual Christmas show All is Calm about the WWI Christmas Truce: a series of songs about the experience connected by historical text describing the events as well as the feelings of those involved.  Dan and Peter have collected over 40 songs relating to the immigrant experience.  The songs come from 20 countries and are sung in 18 languages.  They're arranged into six parts, covering the decision to leave home, through arrival in Ellis Island, to making a new life in the Lower East Side (next time you visit NYC, make sure to visit Ellis Island as well as the Tenement Museum to see how immigrants lived 100+ years ago).  The first half of the show features mostly mournful songs of leaving (I was particularly moved by the Irish "Emigrant's Letter").  As Dan said in the post-show discussion, it's slim pickings trying to find happy songs about leaving your home forever.  ;)  The second half of the show focuses on one of the most famous musician immigrants of this time - songwriter Irving Berlin (aka Israel Beilin from Russia).

In addition to assembling interesting, funny, touching songs, Dan and Peter have also assembled a talented group of singers and musicians.  The 11 singer/actors include several who have appeared on this blog before: Sasha Andreev, Erin Capello, Dennis Curley, and Natalie Nowytski (click on the tags at the bottom of this post to find out where).  All of the singer/actors were wonderful in their own way, singing and speaking in accented English or foreign languages.  I was particularly impressed by the two young boys Braxton Baker and Jake Ingbar, who held their own with all the "professionals."  The four talented musicians were led by Dan Chouinard (on piano, accordion, and tuba!) and included the great fiddle/mandolin player and composer Peter Ostroushko (another frequent guest on the Morning Show).  All of this adds up to a wonderful evening of music!

As a collector of playbills/programs (you may have noticed that every post on this blog includes a scan of the playbill), I have to note that the program for Steerage Song is itself is a work of art.  It looks like an old photo album.  The text is printed in old fashioned font against a background of sepia-toned photographs of immigrants.  It's really quite beautiful.  The show also featured projections of these photographs onto the brick wall at the back of the stage at the Fitz, as well as text describing the songs being sung or quotes being spoken.

Even though this is a period piece, the themes are quite relevant today.  The struggles facing immigrants and the reaction of those observing and legislating immigration are similar to what they were 150 years ago.  Perhaps remembering our own immigrant history (except for those of Native American descent, all Americans are descended from immigrants) will inspire us to be a have a little more compassion for those immigrating today.

'Steerage Song' sets the immigrant story to music

June 4, 2011.By Rob Hubbard, Pioneer Press.

There was a time when stage musicals were designed for entertainment only, offering audiences an evening-length respite from their cares. But Peter Rothstein seems determined to make the musical a tool for dealing with deeper issues.

For his latest original work, "Steerage Song," the head of Theater Latte Da and his musical collaborator, Dan Chouinard, have used exhaustive historical research of texts and music to give a sense of what it was like to be an immigrant in late-19th and early-20th century America. Currently receiving its world premiere at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater, it employs disapproving snippets from newspapers and clear-eyed chronicles written by those making the passage from Europe to New York Harbor. But the soul of "Steerage Song" is its music, and it's delivered with emotion to spare by a talented cast of 11 and an exceptional five-piece band.

Rothstein and Chouinard ask a lot of the ensemble, which is required to sing songs in at least 15 different languages. But they do so in often quite moving fashion, especially when the pain of separation permeates sad ballads, demonstrating that grief is as much a universal language as music.

In many ways, "Steerage Song" seems less a theater production than a folk oratorio. The performers stand to present their slices of the story individually and in groups, offering parallel experiences of loss and uncertainty, reminiscences of home and depictions of the difficult lives they establish once on these shores. Considering the variety of languages employed, it's no surprise that scripts are periodically consulted and read from. But this isn't a dialogue-driven show, so it never proves a distraction.

Some might prefer a plot-driven tale that focuses upon the experiences of fewer characters, rather than these snapshots from several lives, which are often enhanced by projected images from the past.

But Rothstein and Chouinard are clearly asking audiences to find compassion and commonality from experiencing "Steerage Song," and in that they succeed, especially when the songs are at their saddest.

What: Theater Latte Da's production of "Steerage Song" by Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard

When: 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul

Tickets: $31-$26, available at 651-290-1200 or ticketmaster.com

Capsule: An often moving musical look at the immigrant's experience.

Diversity, then and now

June 3, 2011.By Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio.

Editor’s Note: Eric Ringham oversees the commentary section of MPR News. He’s also active in the Twin Cities theater scene. While in conversation he mentioned to me his experience seeing “Steerage Song” last night, to which I said, ‘hey, you should write that up.’ Kindly, he obliged.

Sometimes, in journalism, the simple selection of a topic constitutes an expression of commentary. That’s the case in “Steerage Song,” a journalistic piece of musical theater – or is it a theatrical piece of musical journalism? – that opened Thursday night at the Fitzgerald.

The point of the commentary is this: The immigrant experience is an abiding piece of the American character, passed down from one generation to the next. Those who dislike newcomers today come from people who once were disliked newcomers themselves. And so it goes, until you reach back as far as the people who were here first.

“Steerage Song,” a production of Theater Latte Da, concerns itself with a brief period that saw an explosion in immigration, roughly 1845 to 1920. A cast of singers and versatile instrumentalists roams through a list of 40 songs and assorted spoken texts, cobbled together by co-creators Dan Chouinard and Peter Rothstein. The show does an effective job of rendering the hopes and fears of that time in the words and songs of the people who lived it.

It’s also effective at getting across the message that a country founded upon immigrants has no business looking down its nose at further immigrants.

For me, the point had a particularly sharp edge. Midway through the first act I thought back to an evening last February, when I watched 250 immigrants from 59 countries take their oaths of citizenship in the same theater. I was there because I knew one of the newcomers, but would have found it moving even if I hadn’t known a soul.

The message of that night last February was the same as the message of “Steerage Song.” We didn’t get here all together, and some of us not by our own will, but we’re a better country because we came from a bunch of different places. Though we seem destined to keep forgetting it, diversity is a strength.

'Steerage' is historical proclamation

June 3, 2011.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

This fine effort needs a personal narrative to elevate great music beyond pageantry.

The mythology is well known: In America, streets are paved with gold, land is fertile, food bountiful and freedom palpable. Riding these visions, immigrants have left their homes and ventured toward this shimmering promised land. From roughly 1850 to 1924, European immigrants redefined America's ethnic composition, and its economic and social fabric.

Theater Latté Da has plumbed this experience with "Steerage Songs," a compilation of tunes written by, about and for immigrants who came in this great wave. Woven throughout the music are texts from journalists and historians who documented the phenomenon.

Created by Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard, "Steerage Songs" is best appreciated as pageantry and proclamation. Musically, there is a rich and flavorful stew: folk songs from the Russian Pale, to Italy, Hungary, Scandinavia and the British Isles all articulate dreams for America -- and deep affection for the homeland.

Eleven performers sing and read, backed by five musicians in a show that hits two hours. Laura MacKenzie's pipe and flute renderings instantly convey Scotland and Ireland, while Dennis Curley's warm voice caresses those ballads with a soft brogue. Dirk Freymuth's guitar has a Romany spirit that mixes with Peter Ostroushko's violin and mandolin. Chouinard's accordion and Dale Mendenhall's clarinet, too, exert distinct personalities.

Rothstein's singers are distinguished by beautiful voices, or earthy character. Erin Capello radiates charisma with her readings of songs from Greece and Sweden, Jennifer Grimm stands out with "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor," John Bitterman channels the Jewish cantor's mournful soul and Sasha Andreev displays his Russian resonance. Dylan Fresco sells more than he sings, but he sells well.

If Rothstein and Chouinard want to push forward with "Steerage Songs" -- and they should -- they must address a few things. First, for all the fine effort, there is no story. The narration sounds like a textbook, without personal and emotional investment. A through line about Irving Berlin, the Russian Jew who became one of America's greatest composers, lacks oomph. The music, lovely as it is, needs more eruptive moments. "Yes, We Have No Bananas" gets at that, as do "Oleanna" and "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere."

Lastly, the creators need to edit with an eye toward focus. Less will be more.

‘Steerage Song’ tackles the story, music of American immigrants

June 2, 2011.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.

Call it an embarrassment of riches.

When Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard sat down to assemble Steerage Song, their musical revue about the American immigrant experience at Ellis Island, they found that they had 80 different pieces of music they wanted to use in the show.

Feedback from workshops showed that while all of this was good, audiences thirsted for more context for the music. So the winnowing began. "We're down to about 40 pieces of music," Rothstein says.

The piece, which runs this weekend at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, is a co-production between Rothstein's Theatre Latte Da and Minnesota Public Radio, which previously collaborated on the now yearly standard, All is Calm.

Though focused on one location during a specific period of time (from the middle of the 19th century until the early 1920s, when the immigration laws changed) Steerage Song still has a lot of pieces. "There are two dozen countries represented in the piece and they are singing in 20 different languages," Rothstein says. "We also wanted something that could live on radio, so we can't rely on projections or staging to tell the story."

Rothstein admits that there are personal and political reasons for developing the piece. "My partner is from Mexico and we can see that the system is broken," he says. "There is a total lack of compassion and integrity in our immigration system. My niece married a man from Guatemala, and what they had to go through to share a life together was incredible."

Research for the piece took Rothstein to New York City, both for multiple trips to Ellis Island and also to do additional research throughout the city. Beyond that, he has made overseas trips to places like Ireland to get additional perspective for those who were leaving their entire world -- often, including their families -- to make a new life for themselves.

Steerage Song does include music from some of the most famous immigrant musicians, like Irving Berlin. In his research, he also found a wealth of folk songs and other pieces of music written from numerous perspectives, from those about to make the jump across the ocean to those on the ships to those who have already arrived in America.

The piece takes the audience through the experience, from making the decision to leave, through the journey, and then the final arrival and settling in a new land.

"It was an extraordinary choice that millions of people made," Rothstein says.

There are limits on the story, as it would take far more than two hours to give a complete picture of immigration during the time. There was mass immigration from other parts of the world, especially China, at the same time.

"We decided to frame it as the European immigration experience," Rothstein says. "It comes from the politics of the piece. The people making decisions around immigration today are of European descent. If they looked at their own family experiences, they might have a different perspective.

Steerage Song runs Thursday through Sunday.

“Steerage Song” by Theater Latte Da at the Fitzgerald Theater

June 2, 2011.By Janet Preus, HowWasTheShow.

Theater Latte Da, in partnership with Minnesota Public Radio, has turned its attention to the stories of our immigrant forebears, as told through newspaper reports, speeches, books of the period and the songs distinctive to each culture. The music the immigrants brought with them (and created new in their new home) reflected their unique ethnicities, but through the lyrics we hear shared experiences, regardless of their origins.

Conceived and created by director Peter Rothstein and music director Dan Chouinard, Steerage Song is a staged concert reading, basically, performed by local singers and musicians, clearly chosen with great care for their familiarity with the music and cultures represented. In fact, the ensemble of 11 singers shared 40 songs sung in 18 languages to create with authenticity the experiences of the huge numbers of European immigrants who flooded Ellis Island around the turn of the last century.

Although the singers move little – script in hand – there is plenty to take in visually with the entire back wall of the theater turned into a giant screen for images of the period – dour faces in babushkas, smiling faces waving energetically from the deck of a ship, children’s faces staring curiously into the unseen camera. The images were fascinating and beautifully supported by the music, which stretched from Italy, Ireland, Macedonia, Sweden, Poland and many more countries, to Tin Pan Alley and New York City’s lower East Side – the destination of so many of the immigrants of the period. What brought them together was the hope for a better life in America; what they shared was the very thing that set them apart: the pain of leaving home and arriving in a new land with precious little real information – and (generally) no money.

The title takes its name from the area occupied by the poorest of the passengers on the ships that at one point crowded New York’s harbor, emptying their occupants in droves on Ellis Island, where they might be allowed to complete their journey, or they might be sent back if they were deemed unfit or unhealthy. It was a potentially frightening proposition either way.

The performers made for a real dream team, creating a musical underscore for a larger, less definable experience. Memorable among them was the Ukrainian ballad, “My Mother is at Home,” the Macedonian song called “God Smite Him Who Goes First” (both sung in the original language) and the Irish tune, “The Emigrant’s letter.”

This show would be a wonderful opportunity to generate a discussion with children old enough to be curious about their ancestors. It runs through June 5 at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

The Ensemble:
Sasha Andreev, Braxton Baker, John Bitterman, Erin Capello, Dennis Curley, Dylan Fresco, Jennifer, Grimm, Jay Hornbacher, Jake Ingbar, Ntalie Nowytski

The Musicians:
Dan Chouinard, Dirk Freymuth, Laura MacKenzie, Dale Mendenhall, Peter Ostroushko

American Musical: Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard on “Steerage Song,” a new musical about coming to America

June 2011.By Tim Gihring, Minnesota Monthly.

Peter Rothstein, the artistic director of Theatre Latte Da, has put his genial touch on many of the most enjoyable, thoughtful musical theater productions in the Twin Cities in the last 10 years—exploding the very notion of what a “musical” is. And he’s done it again, with musical collaborator Dan Chouinard, in “Steerage Song,” an original work compiling music about immigrating to America.

Rothstein’s own roots are classically Irish-American: He grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, as the youngest of 11 children. He’s often repeated what his mother would say, “The good Lord gives you only what you can handle, nothing more, nothing less.” His father ran a savings and loan business, along with real estate investments. The whole family would play the piano—singing Irish songs, naturally.

Both Rothstein and Chouinard attended St. John’s University, in Collegeville. Chouinard’s roots are decidedly French (anyone who’s heard him play accordion can attest to this). He even taught French (and Italian) at the University of Minnesota for four years.

Chouinard has been diligently researching his roots for some time, traveling to Quebec to meet distant relatives. And he’s bicycled throughout France, bringing an accordion with him (a small one). Alas, none of the music in “Steerage Song” is French.

Coming to America: Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard on their new musical about immigration

June 2011.By Tim Gihring, Minnesota Monthly.

Q: Steerage Song, for Theater Latté Da, is about immigrating through Ellis Island. What inspired this? Your own backgrounds? Titanic? Peter Rothstein: Initially, we were only focused on musicians who came through Ellis Island. But as I dug in, I was surprised by the wealth of music about the immigrant experience itself.

Q: Would that include Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On? PR: No.

Q: You’ve arranged 45 songs in 17 languages. What made the cut? PR: We were drawn to material that’s big either emotionally or politically. I mean, how epic is it to say goodbye to a piece of land or a parent you know you will never see again? There’s one song where a child is singing to the stars from the deck of a ship, “Do you still know me?” That’s bigger than anything I’ve encountered in my life.

Q: Did you dig into your own roots? Dan Chouinard: Genealogy has long been an interest of mine, and I’ve been to Quebec to meet relatives from my dad’s family. But none of them came through Ellis Island. PR: I’m three-fourths Irish and grew up singing Irish songs. But Dan said, “We can’t have all Irish music.” DC: True. Though there are no French songs, my people will be sorry to see.

Q: Have our attitudes toward immigration evolved over time? PR: It was surprising to discover such similarities between then and now. We found an old cartoon of the Statue of Liberty snubbing her nose at immigrants; it’s like something you would see in the New Yorker today.

Q: If you were coming to America then, would you have traveled in steerage—where the fun was—or in style up top? PR: We’re both going to say the same thing. DC: I may be a musician, but I like a good night’s sleep. So yeah, definitely up top.

Steerage Song, by Theater Latté Da, runs June 2 to 5 at the Fitzgerald Theater. latteda.org

Steerage Song

June 1, 2011.By Brad Richason, City Pages.

Nationalistic rhetoric notwithstanding, the United States has always possessed a conflicted view of immigration, advertising a land of opportunity, but limited to those ethnicities deemed worthy of the dream. Even though our immigration history is marred by exclusionary policies and practices, scores of refugees did seek and find a new life on American shores. No period embodies our immigration legacy better than 1892 to 1954, a time span in which millions of newcomers arrived via Ellis Island. To explore the hopes and fears that compelled these immigrants to leave their homelands for the perilous journey to a strange new world, Theater Latte Da's artistic director, Peter Rothstein, has collaborated with celebrated writer and musician Dan Chouinard on the original musical Steerage Song. Much like Rothstein's last project for Theatre Latté Da, the revered holiday tale All Is Calm, Steerage Song uses period-specific music and textual artifacts in order to evocatively re-create the era. Boasting a first-rate cast of local singers and performers, the musical docudrama features lyrics in 15 different languages, each reflecting a unique contribution to our cultural melting pot. Though set in the past, Steerage Song carries an immediate relevance to the immigration arguments of today, serving as a poignant reminder that the symphony of America has always been a global composition.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 2 p.m. Starts: June 2. Continues through June 4, 2011

Songs from the Sea: The world premiere of Steerage Song, June 2-5, brings the music and songs of the immigrant experience to life

June 2011.By Jackie Cartier, Minnesota Public Radio.

Every day, more than 5,000 men, women and children entered the threshold of their new home – filled with trepidation and excitement, and unsure of what the future may hold. From 1892 to 1954 when legislation was passed and the main entryway to the United States was sealed, a total of over 12 million hopeful immigrants came through Ellis Island, “the Island of Hope, Island of Tears,” to start a new life.

Now, almost 60 years later, the world premiere of Steerage Song at the Fitzgerald Theater (Thursday-Sunday, June 2-5) takes a look at the one thing those millions of new Americans had in common: the songs that carried them over. Presented by Theater Latté Da and created by director Peter Rothstein and singer-songwriter Dan Chouinard, Steerage Song chronicles the story of immigration through this new lens and woos audiences with more than 45 songs from 20 different countries in 17 different languages. Rothstein says he and Chouinard were interested in how far the songs alone would take them in telling the story. As expected, the research started, appropriately, in New York City.

At first, Rothstein, who had been playing with the idea of a show like Steerage Song for over four years, said progress in tracking down songs was difficult, as most of the songs haven’t made it into dominant culture. As research took them across the Atlantic, backtracking on the traditional immigration routes of the time, more and more songs speaking directly to the immigration experience were revealed. Visiting ports throughout Europe–including Queenstown, Ireland, the last port of call of RMS Titanic, which had its own steerage class full of immigrating Europeans–Rothstein said he was curious about how Europe curated its people’s emigration experience.

Back in Minnesota, the story of Steerage Song was emerging. “There’s an unusual structure, or arch, to the show,” says Rothstein. “It doesn’t adhere to traditional narrative.” Throughout the acts, Rothstein and Chouinard take audiences through many stages: the propaganda tunes inspiring the move to America; songs of bidding farewell to home; and sonnets composed in the harbor as immigrants first arrived.

Just like the immigrants themselves, the songs they wrote, sang and shared would come to shape and give birth to many facets of American song as we know it today. Rothstein says he is thrilled to share this important history with audiences, saying, “If we want to own ‘God Bless America,’ we have to own that it was written by a Russian Jew in the steerage of a boat.” Even on its own, says Rothstein, the range of music Steerage Song presents is fantastic. Coupled with the themes and story of the program, Rothstein promises the experience will be “profound and extremely entertaining.”

Immigrant stories: New world, old songs

May 30, 2011.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Theater Latte Da's new musical documentary finds reflections of the current day in immigrant songs from an earlier age.

The editorial pages reflected prevalent attitudes about immigration: Newcomers were taking jobs, depressing wages, depleting welfare resources. Contrary voices suggested the influx of people helped refresh our perspectives and initiative, and that the nation was culturally enriched.

Ah, the more things change. From about 1880 to 1924, waves of immigrants, primarily from southern and eastern Europe, flooded the United States. Italians, Slavs, Russian Jews, Poles and Baltic peoples were among those who crowded through Ellis Island, searching for cities with gold-paved streets. They found crowded, festering tenements and a population that suspected the worst of these foreigners. So severe was the reaction that the Immigration Act of 1924 imposed restrictive quotas that lasted until 1965.

Theater Latte Da has plumbed the first-generation experience of these Americans in "Steerage Songs," which has its premiere Thursday through Sunday at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul. Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard have stitched together songs and verbatim texts that shed light on this seminal period.

Along the way, Rothstein and Chouinard uncovered great curiosities from the era. Steamship companies and railroads eager for business enticed immigrants by hiring itinerant advertising troupes to sing jingles in small European towns. Some state governments, looking for population, joined in the courtship. "Uncle Sam's Farm," a ditty extolling the available opportunities in America, had this chorus:

"Our lands, they are broad enough, don't be alarmed; For Uncle Sam has room enough to give us all a farm."

Before he was famous

Another song, "Gee! But This Is a Lonesome Town," was included for its place in the history of little Izzy Baline. In 1905, the New York World reported on the doings about town of Adm. Prince Louis of Battenberg. A relative of the British royal family, the prince went slumming one night and stumbled into a chop suey kitchen in Chinatown. Two singing waiters, "Izzy and Bulhead," serenaded Louis with "Lonesome Town" and afterward the prince flipped them a dime. The World reported that "Izzy, the recipient of the ten cents, declares he will have it framed and hung on the wall as a souvenir."

We know Izzy better by the name he would later assume, Irving Berlin.

Rothstein initially thought he would shape the show around composers who came through Ellis Island -- such as Berlin, the man who expressed such love for his adopted country in "God Bless America."

"I felt that if we want to own 'God Bless America,' then we have to own a Russian Jew who came here in a steerage boat," Rothstein said.

The show shifted from its focus on composers as Rothstein uncovered hundreds of songs, some of obscure provenance, about the immigrant experience. "Yes, We Have No Bananas" tells of the peddler culture and "Rose of the Volga" was a Yiddish song about labor and housing conditions. "Oleanna" was a well-known Norwegian folk song that poked fun at the mythology of American greatness. It used the name of the colony formed by violinist Ole Bull in 19th-century Pennsylvania. The lyrics spoof a place where "wheat and corn just plant themselves; then grow a good four feet a day; while on your bed you rest yourself."

Firsthand accounts

Chouinard, who plays piano and accordion in a five-person band for "Steerage Song," originally was brought in for his musical experience. Describing himself as a dilettante historian, Chouinard gravitated more to the journalism of the project. These spoken pieces, interspersed among the songs, comment on the lives of immigrants. The cast includes Sasha Andreev, Erin Capello, Dennis Curley, Dylan Fresco and Jennifer Grimm. Chouinard leads a band of Peter Ostroushko, Laura McKenzie, Dirk Freymuth and Dale Mendenhall.

One source used by Chouinard was journalist Broughton Brandenburg's 1904 book, "Imported Americans," based on his experiences living in New York City at the height of the in-migration. Brandenburg wrote that summer in the Lower East Side slums made life uptown seem like "a seaside resort." With the heat and smells and crowding, the neighborhood in which he was living "was in tumult every evening until near dawn." He booked passage in steerage with immigrants and wrote of "actually counting the half-hours of the twelve-day voyage amid utter wretchedness." Getting food consisted of waiting in line for half an hour for "two messes of macaroni and meat, two tin cups of highly acidic wine and a cup of hot potatoes" for a group of six.

The trip from Europe took 11 to 16 days, depending on the port of departure, Chouinard said. Cunard was the first line for passengers, but by the 1870s, all ships were carrying hundreds in cargo areas that had been converted to third-class accommodations. Iron bunk beds were stacked in open areas, with mattresses made of burlap bags filled with straw or waste. The companies figured they could ship passengers at a daily expense of about 20 to 28 cents per capita. In 1909, there was a hue and cry that the low price of $10 per passenger was attracting a lower class of immigrant.

There are 40 pieces of music from 20 countries or cultures in "Steerage Songs." Rothstein said the show is broken into six parts that tell a chronological story. Berlin, as an individual, pops up throughout the narrative.

"I'm only interested in looking at history if it has something to say about today," said Rothstein. "With immigration issues at the forefront today, this is a topic I'm passionate about. We think that immigrants 100 years ago were welcomed with open arms. That's not true, and we struggle with what we preach."

KARE about the Arts: World premiere Steerage Song

May 27, 2011.By KARE11.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn -- The world premiere of Theater Latté Da's original musical "Steerage Song," which celebrates the journey of immigrants to America during the height of immigration, will debut at St. Paul's historic Fitzgerald Theater and run June 2-5, 2011.

Created by Artistic Director Peter Rothstein, along with musician and writer Dan Chouinard, the new musical docudrama is premiering in partnership with Minnesota Public Radio. "Steerage Song" will tell a story through music of the journey immigrants took from Europe to America through Ellis Island. 
"For 150 years, immigration has been a volatile discussion in this country. In creating Steerage Song, I hope to chronicle the journey of millions of new Americans through their music which expressed their hopes, sacrifices, pains and joys," said Rothstein.

By Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard 
The Fitzgerald Theater - 10 E Exchange St, St Paul, MN 55101

Thursday, June 2, 8:00 PM 
Friday, June 3, 8:00 PM 
Saturday, June 4, 8:00 PM 
Sunday, June 5, 2:00 PM

Tickets are available at the Fitzgerald Theater box office, all Ticketmaster outlets and online at www.ticketmaster.com. 
To charge tickets by phone, call 651-290-1200. 
Box Office Hours: Tuesday through Friday, Noon to 5:00 p.m.

Theater Latte Da will premiere original musical

March 12, 2011.By Ross Raihala, Pioneer Press.

Theater Latte Da will premiere "Steerage Song," an original musical about early American immigrants, with a run June 2 through 5 at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul.

Created by the Twin Cities theater company's artistic director Peter Rothstein along with musician and writer Dan Chouinard, the musical follows the journey immigrants took from Europe to the United States through Ellis Island. The pair spent several y ears gathering folk songs from 30 different European countries for the show, which also features patriotic numbers and Tin Pan Alley-style melodies.

"The history of immigration is both rich and cyclical," Chouinard said. "By remembering our own history, we can look with greater understanding on the faces of immigrants in our community today."

Tickets are $31 and $26 and are available through Ticketmaster.


February 2011.By National Alliance for Musical Theatre.

An interview with Peter Rothstein, Artistic Director of Theatre Latté Da in Minneapolis, MN about their upcoming production of Steerage Song by Rothstein and Dan Chouinard, recipient of one of NAMT's National Fund for New Musicals Early Collaboration Grants.

Packed into the steerage of steamships, they left their homelands with few possessions but a wealth of hope, promise and music, SteerageSong is a musical kaleidoscope of the Ellis Island-era immigrant experience told in words and melodies of those who made the epic journey.

Tell us about the genesis of Steerage Song A few years ago, I created a work in collaboration with Minnesota Public Radio called All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914, which wove together historic songs and a wide range of found texts to create a musical docudrama. I wanted to explore a similar use of that form while addressing a major issue of debate in this country.

What drew you to using vintage songs rather than creating new songs to tell the story? There is a wealth of songs that offer profound first-hand insights into the immigrant experience. Co-creator Dan Chouinard and I have been gathering songs throughout Europe and the States for the past three years. The work currently includes songs from 25 different countries and 15 different languages. There is a musical progression in the work beginning with isolated, ethnic musical styles, then a fusion of those sounds, and ending with the birth of Tin Pan Alley.

You recently had a chance to work further on the show. What changed during that development time? With support from the National Fund for New Musicals, we were able to do a weeklong workshop of the piece, which culminated in a public reading. The response was very positive and the feedback insightful as we move to the next phase of development.

What are the plans for Steerage Song? Theater Latté Da will premiere the work in collaboration with Minnesota Public Radio in June 2011 at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul (home to “A Prairie Home Companion”). The work will subsequently be broadcast through National Public Radio. This will hopefully be the first of many productions.

Why do you think Steerage Song is right for your audience and community at this time? Immigration is a divisive issue in this country. Over the past century the languages, skin colors and modes of transportation have changed, but much of the immigrant experience remains the same. Through looking back at the experience of our ancestors, I believe we alter the way we look at the immigrants of today.

For more information about Theatre Latte Da and Steerage Song, visit latteda.org

Coming this spring PRESENTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THEATER LATTÉ DA: Steerage Song by Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard

2010.By Minnesota Public Radio.


World premiere. For over 60 years, Ellis Island was the gateway to America–an “island of hope, island of tears” for 5,000 immigrants a day who sailed in the steerage of steamships. Steerage Song is a musical kaleidoscope of their journey to the land of freedom and opportunity, weaving a tapestry of immigrant songs, patriotic tunes and the melodies of Tin Pan Alley in tribute to the voices that created the sound of America. Look for details soon.