Saturday, December 17, 2022

"A Christmas Carole Petersen" by Theater Latte Da at Crooners Supper Club

In addition to their new holiday* favorite Christmas at the Local (playing at the Ritz Theater through December 31), and the beautiful tradition All is Calm that is on a national tour and streaming on PBS, Theater Latte Da is bringing back their original holiday show that was an annual tradition for many of their early years. A Christmas Carole Petersen is #TCTheater artist Tod Petersen's love letter to his family, his childhood Christmases, and his upbringing in Mankato (with a good amount of skepticism and "bah humbug" thrown in). Since its first production over 20 years ago, A Christmas Carole Petersen has gone through several iterations and was last seen at the Ritz in 2017. This production, at Crooners Supper Club, is a more streamlined version of the show, with no bells and whistles of fancy sets or costumes, more of a cabaret storytelling show and running just about 70 minutes. But it works, because at its heart this show is a collection of stories and songs, with no need for embellishment  (beautifully directed by Peter Rothstein, as always). The remaining four shows of this one-weekend run are sold out; contact the box office for cancellations, or check out some of the other great holiday offerings at Crooners this year.

A Christmas Carole Petersen feels less like a performance, and more like sitting around the living room sharing stories and singing songs. Tod tells the stories, walking us through Christmases past and present and playing multiple characters including his parents, siblings, his younger self, and Ebenezer Scrooge. The Petersens, comprised of Tod, his older brother, two younger sisters, and their parents, are a typical Minnesotan Christmas-loving family, the kind of family that sends out annual family status letters with the Christmas cards, and goes caroling around their neighborhood. The show is a delightful string of funny and/or touching stories mixed with traditional and unfamiliar Christmas songs, that's thoroughly entertaining, very relatable, and utterly charming.** Accomplished local pianist and composer George Maurer provides the piano accompaniment and shares musical direction duties with Latte Da's co-founder Denise Prosek, and the songs are performed by "Carolettes" Ronnie Allen, Jordan Leggett, and Jody Briskey, all amazingly talented vocalists. 

The show is performed on Crooners main stage, with no set decoration other than the red curtain that's always there. Cast is dressed in casual chic festive wear, and the only real "theater trick" employed is the lighting, which brightens or darkens as the story calls for, including to a menacing red when Tod becomes Scrooge (lighting design by Kyia Britts). The "Supper Club Edition" of A Christmas Carole Petersen stays true to the spirit of the show, letting the songs and stories speak for themselves.

Just like The Partridge Family, one of young Tod's inspirations, A Christmas Carole Petersen will make you happy. But you might also experience feelings of nostalgia, regret, gratitude, and sadness at the loss of those no longer with us. The holidays are complicated for many of us for various reasons, and this show allows you to feel how you feel about them, while still relishing the joys of a homemade cookie, a hand-written card, a familiar song, and a place to call home.**

Since the show was last performed, Tod's mother Carole has passed away, which adds an extra layer of poignancy to the already present themes of nostalgia and bittersweet holiday feelings. But thanks to this beautiful little show, those of us who never met her feel like we know and love Carole, and in that way her legacy lives on. If I haven't made you cry yet (as this show did at several moments), I'll leave you with the perfectly chosen final song of the show, Christmas Eve by Julie Gold (gorgeously sung by Jody).
All that wrapping and unwrapping
The best gift I ever had
Let me pass it on to you my child
As you dream of gifts to come
Take this love along your journey and
Don't forget where you came from

*Click here for reviews of all of the holiday shows I've seen this year.

**Some text borrowed from my review of the 2016 production