Theatre Latté Da takes foray into mini-musical form

March 30, 2002.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Musicals needn’t be three hours long, but it helps. Score, song, melody, harmony – and we aren’t even talking about choreography yet – require more dramatic scaffolding than simple spoken word. The payoff is when that non-verbal magic strikes inexpressible tones in our hearts. But, can this inherently inefficient form retain its power when it’s asked to dance with the agility of a terse one-act?

That is the mission of “New York Musical Shorts,” which opened Thursday in a Theatre Latté Da show at the Loring Playhouse in Minneapolis. Artistic directors Peter Rothstein and Denise Prosek stage five pieces – 20 minutes each – drawn from work done for the musical-theater graduate program at New York University.

Despite reservations, this is enjoyable froth. Rothstein, with his eye for pace and staging, and prosek, a terrifically economical music director, guide their talented cast over a range of moods and styles. Gabriel Platica and Ted Vig provide a lovely accompaniment. The material demonstrates both the capabilities and pitfalls of this construction.

Rothstein wisely leads off with the slightest pieces, “Blood Drive.” A slice of life about giving blood, it barely has a beginning and a middle, much less and end, but Julie Madden and Joe Leary keep it funny and light. It overreaches, though, with a third character who seems to have some angsty story to tell but not time to tell it.

“Eleanora” benefits from Edgar Allan Poe’s moody narrative about a young married man haunted by the love of his childhood. The writer and composer wisely chose the high drama of opera in this miniature, painting in dark, epic hues. Adena Brumer, Shannon Warne and Joe Kolboy sing beautifully.

The act smartly closes with “Poodle Rescue.” Composer Rob Hartmann gets it just right, concocting a theatrical sherbet that spin through clear structure with arch wit, fun characters and spanking fun action in a story about two men whose relationship crumbles over pet problems.

“Weather” takes a step backward. This oddball, tongue-in-cheek piece sinks under the weight of its own mythology. Absurdity needs razor-sharp focus – even at its most inchoate moments – and this piece just feels unfinished, with too many ideas at work.

“Passage of Dreams” is theatrically more ambitious than any of the others, but it succeeds because its high-concept fantasy-eschews narrative for ethereal whim, and the evenening’s sweetest music. Warne is a soulful Parisian flower girl whose dreams construct gossamer wings. Rothstein effectively uses Brumer as an exotic, mysterious woman in an upstairs window, with her coal-black eyes and backlit tousled hair. It’s terribly charming.