BWW Interview: A CHRISTMAS CAROLE PETERSEN's Tod Petersen
A Christmastime tradition for many Minnesotans is attending a holiday show. The Guthrie's annual A CHRISTMAS CAROL comes to mind quickly. But another CHRISTMAS CAROLE (PETERSEN) has quietly and assuredly built a following over many years.
Tod Petersen's story of his mother's Christmas letters and traditions with his family growing up in Mankato, Minn., along with fun songs sung by three Carolettes provides a humorous and heartwarming look at one family's holidays but holds truths for many people. Petersen took time to answer 6 Questions & a Plug about this personal show.
What was it like for you to create this show about your family and its Christmas traditions?
It was fun. My co-creator and director, Peter Rothstein, and I have been great friends for over 20 years. The hallmark of our friendship is laughter. So, when we were writing A CHRISTMAS CAROLE PETERSEN 17 years ago, we sat around and shared stories and funny insights, cracking each other up the entire time and we ended up crafting a show that people seem to love. It was so much fun and I will always be grateful to Peter for the invitation to create this show together.
Did you worry that it would bother your mother or other family members to put it all out there?
Well, I wish I could say yes, but honestly, I did not worry. And I should have been more concerned about my lovely family. There were a few minor hurt feelings and moments in the show that I was asked to correct. Also, my sweet mother found out, while watching the show, that I had skipped some family Christmases and spent them all alone. Which, I learned, is something that makes mothers very sad. But my family loves the show. Especially Mom. My sisters have already been to the show this year and will both see it again. My brother is coming next weekend from Seattle. They support their show-offy loose-lipped brother. My parents see it two or three times every year.
You say you're a Grinch but you do a long-running show dedicated to Christmas that's super nostalgic. Are you really that much of a Grinch?
Yup. I try not to be a jerk about it, but this holiday season is truly not my cup of nog. And along with the nostalgia, the show poignantly presents the melancholy and loneliness that many people feel at this time of year.
This show IS really nostalgic and personal. What is it like for you as an actor to play yourself on stage each night, and how has it changed for you over the nine years you've done it?
Well, it is very personal and there have been times when I've wondered if perhaps I am over-exposing myself. But I also know the show has become a beloved tradition for many families. I frequently hear from audience members, after the show, in the lobby, when we're handing out Christmas cookies, how deeply affected they are by our message, how they recognize their own mothers and families, how much they needed our particular brand of joy and truth at this time of year. I've also heard from a couple of LGBTQ folks that they used the show to come out of the closet, by bringing their families to see a positive representation of a family where one of the members happens to be gay. So to be of service, in any of these ways, makes it all worthwhile.
Creating this show, you were able to weave in covers of numerous songs that really fit the story well. Were these songs special to you throughout your lifetime or a good fit for this show? And, did you, Peter Rothstein and music director Denise Prosek have to seek rights from each of the song rights holders?
I had very little to do with selecting the music. But I think Peter and Denise did a fabulous job of finding just the right tunes for the show. They are both so talented. Denise's arrangements are absolutely beautiful. Every night, I love listening to the three singers, Jody Briskey, Dom Wooten and Ryan Lee. The fact that they're all playing a million different instruments--accordion, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, recorder, drums--is pretty impressive!
What was your favorite Christmas letter of all those your mom wrote?
The one where she announces the adoption of my baby sister, AmyAnn, in 1970. That was the year my family was complete. I love them all.
What's next for you as a performer or is there another family story burning to be told in you?
I'm doing NEWSIES at the Chanhassen! So excited! I love working there, having dreamed about it as a little kid, growing up in Mankato. And no, at the moment, I have no burning desire to exploit my family any further. Much to their relief, I am sure.
Written by: Tod Petersen and Peter Rothstein
Directed by: Peter Rothstein
Music Direction by: Denise Prosek
Featuring: Tod Petersen, Ryan Lee, Jody Briskey and Dominique Wooten
Dates: Wednesday, Nov. 29 - Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017
Venue: Ritz Theater (345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis MN 55413)
Carole returns...and she's ready to deck the halls! The celebrated holiday comedy returns to the Ritz Theater. There's no denying the power of the holidays to bring out the best and worst in all of us. Acclaimed storyteller Tod Petersen reflects on the yuletide season with his family in Mankato, Minnesota, and pays particular tribute to the show's namesake-his mother Carole. Join us for this hilarious and heartwarming Theater Latté Da original.
Photo: Tod Petersen, courtesy of Theater Latte Da.