Thursday, December 7, 2017

Caroling Along to A Christmas Carole Petersen

What is the most Minnesotan Christmas show you can think of? 


Photo by Allen Weeks

Most of us would probably select something along the lines of A Christmas Story or Charlie Brown, and that would be understandable. But most of us would be wrong.

Photo by Allen Weeks

To my thinking the award for Most Minnesotan Christmas Performance goes hands-down to A Christmas Carole Petersen, now showing at Theater Latte Da through December 30. An original piece co-written by Latte Da Founder and Artistic Director Peter Rothstein and the show's star Tod Petersen, A Christmas Carole Petersen has everything to make a home-grown Minnesotan wistful over the holidays, with a few unique songs thrown in for good measure.

Photo by Allen Weeks

I'm hard pressed to describe the plot and structure of this show. It's some kind of a mashup between vintage Lawrence Welk meets Bing Crosby Christmas Specials meets your everyman's church basement kid's variety show. The overarching narrative is led by Tod and follows the arc of his personal family Christmases as told through the lens of his mother Carole's love of the holiday. Tod reads vintage family Christmas update letters (which were hilarious; my family has dozens of the same and they do not age well, *which is the point*) and reminisces over major Christmas milestones in his and his family's lives. Interspersed between Tod's time traveling missives are several unique carols sung by Jody Briskey, Ryan Lee, and Dominique Wooten.

Photo by Allen Weeks

Keep in mind that I use the term carol here loosely; these are more songs that have some kind of Christmas or even holiday reference (such as "Mele Kalikmaka," "Feliz Navidad," or on the Hanukkah side "Ikh Bin a Kleyner Dreydl"). The kitschy mix somehow works and is a blessed reprise from the ten thousandth rendition of "Silent Night" that so often graces the stage at this time of year, and if nothing else all audiences are guaranteed to hear something they never have heard before. The musicians are mostly successful and bring a surprising amount of energy to their crooning with a peppy step that can melt even a Grinch's small heart. The standout is anything sung by Mr. Wooten, who brings a lovely tone and musicality to each piece he graces with his voice. Mr. Petersen is approachable and direct as the narrator. I wish to avoid stereotypes describing his performance, but I think I can safely say that any fans of the trope of the dry delivery of a childless Scrooge-y gay man will probably enjoy this show.

Photo by Allen Weeks

I wasn't sure what to expect when seeing A Christmas Carole Petersen for the first time but I knew no matter what that it would be different from the usual fare at this time of year, and it was. What a blessing. The revue style was engaging, and although it didn't totally capture me it enthralled my future mother-in-law, who has continued to talk about the show since we attended. The audience at the Ritz Theater (which is tastefully and beautifully bedecked in jewel-toned and simple but quality Christmas decor) clearly adored the show on opening night, and it was nice to see something that felt so "normal." This is not a Christmas story that will push any boundaries or break any barriers, but it's one that anyone who isn't a card carrying Christmas fan will find something to relate to. As someone who has never harbored a definitive love for this holiday, I really enjoyed Carole Petersen's inspiring message of creating joy for joy's sake and loving everyone regardless of their circumstances. Isn't that really supposed to be the reason for the season? For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.
Photo by Allen Weeks