As Vanessa Williams and dessert lovers know, it's usually wise to save the best for last.
Theater Latté Da knows, too, which is why its entertaining holiday revue "Christmas at the Local" concludes with Maya Angelou's stirring "Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem." Angelou's inclusive message of holiday calm is nice but what makes it land in "Local" is the work of composer Chastity Brown and music director/orchestrator Jason Hansen, who combines a spare arrangement with lovely vocals to create something very special.
The low-key offering of holiday joy takes place on Benjamin Olsen's stunning set, an Irish bar called the Local (actually, based on the accents, probably an Irish bar somewhere in the Midwest). It's an incredibly detailed work, with bottle-green-painted wood, a cranberry-colored wall crammed with photos and mementos, masks of comedy and drama, a washboard and a piano in the corner. There's not much drinking in this tavern and no money ever changes hands, so let's say we're watching employees who gather after hours to enjoy each other's company, exchange tales and make pretty music together.
It's smartly curated music, including Joni Mitchell's holiday-adjacent "River," Steve Wonder's "What Christmas Means to Me" and an expurgated version of the Pogues' rousing "Fairytale of New York" with outdated, offensive language removed.
The other key element is Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales," the only part of "Local" that's not a complete success. It's a long tale, told with humor and spontaneity by Joy Dolo, but it loses some of its narrative oomph because it's been broken into chunks, separated by musical interludes, and because some of the other actors' contributions register as slightly too cutesy.
Even at that, it's a joy to hear Thomas' robust language, the Welsh carols that augment it are beautiful and the actors clearly enjoy one another (shout-out to actor/woodwinds player Elizabeth Reese, who has what could be called RMF, Resting Merry Face).
Heck, I may have had RMF, so successfully do directors Peter Rothstein and Larissa Kokernot, along with their company, create a sense of community. The house lights stay up for the first few numbers so that we all feel a little like we're in this bar, celebrating the season with some minor-key holiday songs. And Dolo even passes out saltwater taffy to theatergoers.
"Local" doesn't begin with the admonition to silence cellphones and unwrap your candies before the show starts, and that taffy may be why. The first couple songs on opening night were accompanied by the sound of candy being unwrapped and, while that can be annoying in some settings, at "Local" it simply makes you feel like you're one of the locals, too.
'Christmas at the Local'
Who: Directed by Larissa Kokernot and Peter Rothstein.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 and 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Jan. 1.
Where: 345 13th Av. NE., Mpls.
Protocol: Masks required only at Wed. evening and Sun. matinee performances.
Tickets: $35-$91, 612-339-3003 or latteda.org.