If you’re anything like me, you are a Christmas enthusiast and look forward to the next one as soon as December 26 falls. You love the gathering of friends and family, the tried and true traditions, and the overwhelming cozy and comfortable spirit of the holiday. Not to mention the tree, the stockings, the food, the cocktails, and the carols!
And if you’re anything like me, you ban anything Christmas until at least December 1, preferably longer. Keeping things short and sweet makes the holiday season even that much more special. Therefore, Theatre Latte Da’s opening night of their annual “A Christmas Carole Peterson” was my first dose of Christmas 2017. More like a double dose!
Walking into the Ritz theatre, Michael Hoover’s set literally glowed and I had to fight the impulse to leap on stage and touch the glorious, luxurious red curtain. Bedecked in garland, trees, lights, and presents, the set instantly made you feel warm and welcome. Waiting for the show to begin, I caught myself singing along to Sound Designer Kevin Springer’s pre-show mix of Christmas carols. I’m sure the lady next to me did not appreciate the wandering pitch and lack of key-conviction, but I kept right on “singing.” I was in the Christmas spirit and the show hadn’t even started, yet.
Luckily, my audience neighbor didn’t have to endure for long and I was soon shut up by the recorded pre-show announcement (done by the titular Carole Peterson, herself!).
“A Christmas Carole Peterson” is an original work written by Tod Peterson (Carole’s son) and Peter Rothstein (Latte Da’s Artistic Director and this show’s director) which Theatre Latte Da has turned into something of an almost-annual tradition since its premier in 2000. The play-with-music is essentially a love triangle between Tod Peterson, his mother, Carole, and Christmas. Over the course of the evening, we witness a smattering of Todd and Carole’s recollections of Christmases past which are interrupted by carols (classic and original) from The Carolettes group.
Along with playing himself at different stages in his life, Tod Peterson also plays Carole and all other characters. It is with ease that Mr. Peterson switches roles and at no point was I confused about who he was portraying. With just a change of the voice and a few simple gestures, Mr. Peterson pokes fun at himself and his family, but it is such an honest and authentic performance, you know the jokes come from a place of sincere love and compassion. You could just tell that Mr. Peterson was living for the moment on stage--nothing was phoned in.
Denise Prosek, who did the musical direction and arrangements, also accompanies the show on stage at the grand piano and I had fun watching her have fun with her silly antics with Todd. Ryan Lee’s “River” was melancholy and cozy--my favorite kind of Christmas song. Dominique Wooten was outstanding with his version of “Please, Come Home for Christmas!” What a voice! I felt like I was high-fiving a thousand Christmas angels.
The production did a beautiful job landing several moments. Carole’s phone calls to Tod tugged at my heart. The story of Carole’s candlelit Christmas magic should become a Hallmark special, it was told so wondrously. And I learned some Partridge Family Christmas choreography that had me dancing in my seat.
But a few other moments landed a bit flat. The original song, “Christmas Vacation,” which was written by Mr. Peterson, seemed frantic and unnecessary. And the Carolettes, who all gave lovely performances, often seemed like too much in a rush to get offstage after their numbers that it made it difficult for me to appreciate the relationship between them, their songs, and Tod.
“A Christmas Carole Peterson” drips with nostalgia and honesty and never ventures toward earnestness. The show is specifically ‘Peterson’ in the details and memories that it recalls. But it is through that specificity that the Peterson Christmas is everyman’s Christmas. Every family can relate and share in the hope, love, exasperation, and homesickness of the holiday season, and this simple, small play does a remarkable job capturing those moments.
If you’re like me, and can’t wait for Christmas to get here. Or if you’re tired of the same old “A Christmas Carol” and looking for something a little more unique. Or if you can’t go home for Christmas this year, check out Theatre Latte Da’s “A Christmas Carole Peterson.” Never did I feel that I was driving by, watching someone else’s Christmas through their glowing living room window. I was invited inside and made welcome to celebrate in a simultaneously rollicking and intimate Christmas with everyone.