Latté Da plans ambitious season

By Pamela Espeland6/24/15

Theater Latté Da just had the most successful season in its 17-year history: a thrilling “Master Class” with Sally Wingert as Maria Callas (smartly staged like a real master class at MacPhail), a steampunk “Oliver!” with Bradley Greenwald as Fagin, and a magical “Into the Woods” with Greta Oglesby as the Witch, plus the final “All Is Calm” with Cantus and the third year of “NEXT: New Musicals in the Making,” a peek at what’s coming down the pike.

Announced last night at the Ritz, the 2015-16 season is bigger and potentially even better. With five full shows including two world premieres, Latté Da is growing its core season, launching a massive initiative to create new American musicals, and continuing its relationship with Hennepin Theatre Trust.

First, that initiative: It’s called NEXT 20/20, and it’s a five-year plan to develop 20 new musicals or plays-with-music and put many of them into full production. Twenty is a lot, but artistic director Peter Rothstein is ready. “I believe it is the responsibility of the regional theater to not only speak to audiences today, but to contribute to the dramatic canon of tomorrow,” he said in a statement.

The first two are the world premieres in the 2015-16 season. “Lullaby,” a play-with-music from writer Michael Elyanow and singer-songwriter, recording artist and playwright Jonatha Brooke (“My Mother Has Four Noses”) opens Jan. 13, 2016, at the Ritz. “C” is Bradley Greenwald and Bob Elhai’s musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” with Greenwald as Cyrano. Performances begin March 30 at the Ritz. Both new works came out of Latté Da’s “NEXT: New Musicals in the Making” series.

The season opens with “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” with Sally Wingert as pie shop proprietress Mrs. Lovett and Tyler Michaels as Toby, her unwitting accomplice. We loved Wingert in “Master Class” and Michaels in “Cabaret,” part of Latté Da’s 2012-13 season. Michaels’ turn as the Emcee was his breakout role; after that came Freddy in “My Fair Lady” and Puck in “Midsummer,” both at the Guthrie, and “Peter Pan” (as Peter) at the Children’s Theatre.

In March, the Bloomington native told KARE 11, “I’ve made the decision to stay here for a while … the community I have here is super-supportive, and I love it, and Minnesota is my home.” He’ll be here at least through Oct. 25 of this year. “Sweeney Todd” opens Sept. 23 at the Ritz.

For its fourth offering in the Broadway Re-Imagined series with Hennepin Theatre Trust (which earlier brought us Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida,” “Cabaret” and “Oliver!”), Rothstein will direct real-life mother and daughter Michelle Barber and Cat Brindisi in his new interpretation of “Gypsy.” It opens Feb. 13 at the Pantages.

After eight years, Cantus has sung its final “All Is Calm,” so this year’s version will be a new production. Cantus’ former artistic director Erick Lichte and former Cantus member Timothy C. Takach were the original arrangers of the songs. Lichte will return to serve as music director, so maybe it won’t change that much. We’ll see starting Dec. 16 at the Pantages.

The fourth year of “NEXT: New Musicals in the Making” begins May 22, closes out the season and gives us a hint of what Rothstein and Latté Da might do next. Details TBA.

Last season’s “Into the Woods” was Latté Da’s first production at the Ritz, the refurbished theater in northeast Minneapolis that was once home to Ballet of the Dolls and faced an uncertain future when that company went on hiatus in 2014. Along with presenting three shows there in 2015-16, Latte Da now has its offices in the building.

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