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Theater Latté Da’s ‘Christmas at the Local’ offers music, nostalgia, poetry

“Christmas at the Local” brings two literary gems together – Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and “Amazing Peace,” a poem by Maya Angelou which has been adapted into a piece called “The Longing for Amazing Peace,” set to music by Chastity Brown.

“Christmas at the Local” cast members from left: Bradley Greenwald, Quinn Shadko, Joy Dolo, and Phinehas Bynum.
“Christmas at the Local” cast members from left: Bradley Greenwald, Quinn Shadko, Joy Dolo, and Phinehas Bynum.
Photo By Lucas Wells

Theater Latté Da has some experience putting together holiday classics.

The company’s production of “Christmas Carole Peterson,” ran for nine years, and will come back this season for a short run of six performances at Crooners Supper Pub. Its production of “All is Calm,” about the Christmas truce during World War I when both sides stopped fighting for the holiday, has become a huge hit, touring nationally and licensed by 23 other entities currently across the U.S. and Canada.

Now Latté Da has a new holiday engagement brewing, mixing up ingredients like music, nostalgia, poetry and warm feelings together and hoping it resonates with the holiday zeitgeist.

“Christmas at the Local” brings two literary gems together – Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and “Amazing Peace,” a poem by Maya Angelou which has been adapted into a piece called “The Longing for Amazing Peace,” set to music by Chastity Brown.

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Welsh singer-songwriter Cerys Matthews and composer Mason Neely originally adapted Thomas’s beloved story/poem as a ballet, performed by a full orchestra. Rothstein was driving in his car listening to NPR when he heard Matthews talk about adapting Thomas’s holiday classic. “I thought, this is extraordinary,” Rothstein remembers thinking.

The first recording Mathews and Neely made was for 75 instruments. Latté Da has pared down the orchestration to just a handful of instruments rather than using a full symphonic orchestra, and infused a folky element to the style.

“The closest thing I can probably think to it would be ‘Peter and the Wolf,’” Rothstein said. “The orchestra plays a major part in its storytelling.”

Latté Da’s adaption of “Christmas at the Local”  is interspersed with musical numbers, including carols sung in Welsh.

The idea for setting “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in a pub, Rothstein said, was to create the feeling of people gathering. “Much like if you went to The Dubliner now, our Merlin’s Rest,” he said. “They have these Irish music scenes where people just show up and they bring their instrument. The line between performer and audience is very blurred. We’ve tried to create that here.”

Latté Da developed the work through its Next Festival program, now in its 25th year. The program allows new pieces – perhaps classics of the future, to get fine-tuned.

“The process of building this has been starting with a germ of an idea, and then allowing it to sort of grow and find its way over time,” said associate artistic director Elissa Adams. “That’s what is at the heart of new work development. “It needs the time to grow, it needs the time to incubate – to find the right artists to contribute to it and bring it to life.”

“Christmas at the Local” was part of the Next Festival back in 2019, when a group of musician performers spent two weeks with music director Jason Hansen took on the task of exploring the music created by Matthews and Neely and finding a new more folky sound with fewer instruments.

From there, Adams went in search of a companion piece. “I came across this poem by Dr. Maya Angelou that she had written for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House in 2005,” Adams said. “It is a gorgeous, global reminder that this is our task at this time of year – to speak peace to the world and to each other, no matter how grim things seem.”

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The two works complement each other well. “Thomas has the most specific images in the English language that I can think of,” Rothstein said. “Angelou’s work blows that open – it meets us where we are now.”

“Christmas at the Local” is in previews this week and opens Friday with a run through Jan. 1 at the Ritz Theater ($35-76). More information here.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described how scripts are used as part of the “Christmas at the Local” show. The story has been updated.