Friday, July 15, 2011

"Latte Da in the Park" by Theater Latte Da at Lake Harriet

Outdoor music is my favorite part of summer.  And when that music is various selections from musical theater performed by some of my favorite local musical theater actors, it doesn't get any better.  Even though the weather didn't feel very summery, it was still a great night of musical theater at the Lake Harriet Bandshell as Theater Latte Da presented their annual cabaret show "Latte Da in the Park."  I've seen all five of the performers in the past year: Laurel Armstrong (Into the Woods, Flying Foot Forum's original new musical Heaven, On the Town), Sheena Janson (as the man-eating plant in Mu's Little Shop of Horrors), Randy Schmeling (Latte Da's Violet, one of my 2010 favorites, Joseph at the Ordway, TC Theatre Artists Support Japan), Erin Schwab (also in TC Theatre Artists Support Japan), and Max Wojtanowicz (as Cliff in Frank Theatre's wonderful Cabaret).  These talented performers were accompanied by, as always, Latte Da's Musical Director Denise Prosek, and Artistic Director Peter Rothstein was on hand to announce the upcoming 2011-2012 season.

"Alive and Kicking" was the opening act of the show - a chorus made up of men and women aged 61-94, directed by Latte Da resident choregrapher Matthew Michael Ferrell.  They sang a few rock classics with more energy than I can usually muster up, and they were kind of adorable.  Another big part of the entertainment was watching Matthew's one-man dance as he directed the chorus.  They were obviously having a great time (click here for a WCCO news story about the group).

On to the main act of the evening.  The performers sang an interesting selection of songs from musical theater, many of which I've never heard before.  I appreciate that because it introduces me to lesser-known musicals I might never have heard of otherwise.  (Unlike the man I heard complaining that they didn't sing any "showtunes," like from Fiddler on the Roof or Man of La Mancha.  You're in the wrong place, buddy, Theater Latte Da is about the future of musical theater, not the past.)  Laurel started off the show singing a song about falling in love with a boy who plays the clarinet, and later sang the Stephen Sondheim song "Girls of Summer."  Max sang "I Talk to the Trees" from the Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon, and a beautiful song called "Lost in the Wilderness" from the musical Children of Eden.  Erin sang a couple of great musical theater songs that I actually have heard before - "It Won't Be Long Now" from In the Heights and "There's a Fine, Fine Line" from Avenue Q.  Sheena's selection of songs included the very funny "Crossword Puzzle" from the musical Starting Here, Starting Now.  Randy sang a really lovely song called "Favorite Places" which I discovered is from a new musical called Ordinary Days.  Here it is being performed by Hunter Foster (Urinetown and Little Shop on Broadway, and The Government Inspector at the Guthrie).

The cast also performed several numbers together, which was fun because it allowed their performer sides to really come out.  There was a bit of friendly rivalry as they sang a song from Drowsy Chaperone, with their actions belying the lyrics "I Don't Wanna Show Off No More."  Laurel and Randy dueted on the sweet and playful "You'll Never Get Away From Me" from Gypsy (a song I always sing to my cats when they try to sneak out the door).  The audience was treated to beautiful four-person harmony (the cast minus Erin) on "Dear One" from Kiss of the Spider Woman.  The first act ended with Erin's hilarious rendition of "Somebody to Love" (which she also performed at TC Theatre Artists Support Japan).  Erin has a great voice with amazing control.  She can do crazy things with her voice and play it for laughs, all the while making it seem effortless, while in reality I imagine it's quite difficult to do.  Erin's plea was answered by Randy's hilariously sincere rendition of  "I Would Do Anything for Love," which turned into a fun and entertaining duet (with some audience participation as well).

The second act featured a medley of songs from Latte Da's upcoming season, which includes the smart and silly musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, their annual Christmas show All is Calm, the play Beautiful Thing featuring the music of the Mamas and the Papas, and the brilliant new musical Spring Awakening (in conjunction with the U of M).  The whole cast sang "Spelling Bee," and Sheena sang "My Friend, the Dictionary."  Laurel sang the haunting "Mama who Bore Me" from Spring Awakening, Randy sang my favorite song from the show (and my theme song), "I Don't Do Sadness," and Max led the cast in the closing number from the show, "Purple Summer."  The final two numbers were from Beautiful Thing.  Erin (who will be in the show singing the music of Mama Cass) sang "Dream a Little Dream of Me," and the rest of the cast joined her for "Make Your Own Kind of Music."  This is how much of a theater geek I am: most of the audience was singing along to the pop songs; I was singing along to "Purple Summer!"

The earth will wave with corn
The grayfly choir will mourn
And mares will neigh
With stallions that they mate
Foals they've borne
And all shall know the wonder
Of purple summer.

It's been just about a year since I started this blog, and last year's "Latte Da in the Park" was my first post.  Now I've come full circle.  I've seen so much amazing theater in the past year (just look to the right of this page for the list).  But I feel like I'm just getting started; there's so much theater out there to see!  And Latte Da's new season (especially Spring Awakening) is on the top of my list.