Steerage Song: Thousands are sailing

October 1st, 2013Written by: Ed Huyck Published by: City Pages

Simplicity can be its own reward.

Using no more than music and words drawn from the era, Theatre Latte Da's Steerage Song builds a full vision of the European immigrant experience to the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The show follows the journey millions of immigrants took in that era, from their homelands to across the Atlantic into Ellis Island, New York City, and the places beyond. Creators Peter Rothstein (director) and Dan Chouinard (music direction and arrangements) keep the storyline simple. Most of it is recollections and songs drawn from throughout the era, with a particular Russian Jewish family singled out.

It doesn't take much to work out who the youngest son of that family will become, but it's fitting as the songwriter in question will do much to unite different strains of music into something decidedly American.

The bulk of the show is made up of the songs, including Irish laments (the absolutely beautiful "The Shores of Amerikay"), wild dance tunes, and commentary on the experience they find in America, from "That Little German Band" to "Yes, We Have No Bananas" to a Yiddish version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

The texts, many drawn from contemporary news reports, shows that not much has changed in our discussions of immigration: fears about "lesser" folks coming and taking our jobs, crowding the cities, and spreading crime and disease abound. We also hear from those who understand and embrace the immigrants, and, of course, we hear from the travelers themselves in letters home and in songs they wrote.

The excellent company provides plenty of vocal talent, while also quickly crafting a myriad of characters. Bradley Greenwald anchors the production, providing musical and emotional highlights throughout, with the likes of Sasha Andreev, Erin Capello, and Natalie Nowytski providing strong moments as well.

John Clark Donahue's set elegantly evokes the ships that carried millions of people across the Atlantic, while also easily doubling as a New York City tenement, a hazy bar, and all of the places the characters started from on their journey to America.


Steerage Song Through Oct. 20 The Lab Theater 700 N. First St., Minneapolis $35-$45 For more information and tickets, call 612.339.3003 or visit online.