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REVIEW: A Christmas Carole Petersen Strikes Back (Latté Da)

Tod Petersen stars in Theater Latté Da’s A Christmas Carole Petersen.

Theater Latté Da is currently reprising its holiday staple, the oft-talked-about A Christmas Carole Petersen. The show was first presented in 2000, was an annual Latté Da tradition for 10 years, and returned last year after a 7-year absence. The show is co-written by the show’s star Tod Petersen and by its director Peter Rothstein. Despite the show’s longevity, this is the first year that I have seen it; the performance on opening night illustrated well how this has become an endearing classic.

Frequent songs are one of the show highlights. L-R: Dominique Wooten, Jody Briskey, and Tod Petersen. Not pictured: Ryan Lee.

The show is about Petersen’s family and upbringing in Mankato, Minnesota. It is essentially a two-character play, with Petersen playing himself (both young and old) and his mother, Carole Petersen. As he progresses through key Christmas experiences, staring shortly after his birth in Hawaii and coming through the present, he relies upon his mother’s annual Christmas letters about the family to anchor the show. This is a very Minnesotan thing: my mother and many other mothers annually wrote such letters to stay in contact with extended family and friends, in what was essentially the Facebook feed of the times. Petersen’s excerpts from these letters are often both very humorous and very touching. It made me regret that I did not keep a stack of my mother’s Christmas letters to remember my family’s history.

It addition to the show’s warm reminisces, it also deals with the issues facing a young man who is both gay and separating as an adult from parents who love him. Petersen’s portrayal of these events – especially his hilarious but often touching imitations of his mother – comes across very real, even though at times it could be a little schmaltzy.

Musical director Denise Prosek provides many musical highlights throughout the show with the music of the Carolettes’ trio who appear in-between Petersen’s family vignettes. My favorite group song was “Mele Kailikmaka”. But the solos provided the most memorable music including Jody Briskey’s humorous “Christmas Vacation”, Dominque Wooten’s soulful “Please Come Home for Christmas”, and Ryan Lee’s haunting version of Joni Mitchell’s “River”.

A production still of Jody Briskey in A Christmas Carole Petersen.

For fun, and because The Partridge Family television show was such a part of Petersen’s youth, Petersen joins the trio for renditions of two Partridge songs. Given David Cassidy’s recent death, these scenes were particularly poignant.

The show has a warning that it is not suitable for children under 12 because there is frank talk disputing the existence of Santa Claus. This was not a concern for me, since my six-year-old grandson already told me the truth about Santa. A Christmas Carole Petersen may not be a show that everyone will want to see on a perennial basis, but it is one that everyone should definitely see every few years – if only to remember their own families.

A Christmas Carole Petersen plays through December 30 at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis, MN.

Bev Wolfe