Graydon RoyceStar Tribune
December 4, 2016
When a paean to nostalgic Christmas memories becomes the piece of nostalgia itself, you know you're getting old.
Around the turn of the century, Tod Petersen put together a charming, campy and funny homage to his mother, his family traditions and his own journey from the high of his childhood role in "A Christmas Carol" to the low of feeling alienated from all things Yule.
Petersen first staged "A Christmas Carole Petersen" in 2000 with Peter Rothstein's direction at the now-defunct Loring Playhouse. It ran in that intimate setting for several years before moving to the Ordway's McKnight Theatre (also no longer there) in 2007 and 2008.
After eight years of absence, Petersen, Rothstein, music director Denise Prosek and a new group of "Carolettes" have revived the show in Theater Latté Da's new permanent home, the Ritz, in northeast Minneapolis.
Petersen is not the lanky whip with the snarky sense of humor — well, the humor is still there, but he's thicker in his face and thinner in his hair. It has been 16 years since he wrote a show that reflected his mood about Christmas — a moment of the year that can often define our relationships with our families, the world and ourselves.
So it was natural to wonder if Petersen and his mates could rediscover the magic that made this a small but quite popular Christmas entertainment.
Indeed, at Saturday's opening it took a moment to reacquaint ourselves with the awe-filled 5-year-old who got his first role in the Mankato Community Theater's production of "A Christmas Carol."
"Little Toddy" was just crushed when he walked into an empty school auditorium on the first night of rehearsal. Why wasn't everyone wearing costumes (Scrooge was in cowboy boots!)? Where was the Victorian street scene, the snow falling? Why were actors reading from scripts; didn't they know their lines?
Petersen hit his stride with timeless stories — none more beautiful than the remembrance his mother must have told him about her childhood Christmas on the Nebraska prairie. In another vignette, Petersen tells of coming home to his Chicago apartment late one frosty Christmas night, seeing his sleeping partner and two cats on the bed and feeling for the first time in years that he was really home.
He can still make us weepy with the earnest sincerity he always has worn on his sleeve.
The Carolettes and Prosek provide beautiful music for this cabaret. Ryan Lee, Sarah Ochs and Dominique Wooten are all accomplished singers and the selections are a nice mix of the obscure and familiar.
Welcome back, Tod. Your story is worth telling and it is worth seeing again. And if you've never seen it, it's all new.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune journalist and critic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.