Review: Must-see musical ‘Twelve Angry Men’ debuts almost flawlessly

They meet in secret, settle their differences, agree and present the results to an anxious audience.

I’m talking about creating a musical – a process so fraught with pitfalls and missteps that it’s a miracle to see a new one emerge as scintillating as Theater Latté Da’s “Twelve Angry Men” – but I could also talk about a jury.

One is at the center of this 1950s spectacle. Its dozen characters, including one who would now be called a white supremacist, must decide the fate of a Spanish-speaking teenager accused of stabbing his father to death.

“Twelve Angry Men” is faithful to the seven-decade-old Reginald Rose teleplay on which it is based, but to watch it is to experience the thrill of the novella.

Under the driving musical direction of Denise Prosek, Michael Holland’s jazzy, vocal score feels like you’re about to walk into a bar and order a Tom Collins. Although this show takes place around the same time and place as “West Side Story”, it is much jazzier. The only musical I can think of with a similar feel is “City of Angels”.

Often driven by a walking bass line, often without a chorus, the tunes are syncopated and do not resolve in the orderly fashion that most musical theater songs conclude. Appropriately, they create a tension that only relaxes when the jury decides the fate of the unseen defendant.

There are no cues for the songs, which emerge from the dialogue and then return, but they feel like they belong because every moment of the 100 Minute show does. Like “Company” or “A Chorus Line,” there isn’t much plot in “Twelve Angry Men,” but David Simpatico’s artful book finds its way into the hearts and minds of each character, half white and half color.

They have a lot in common – they’re all men, all sons and, oddly enough, each feels like an outsider – but Simpatico reveals details about their families, ethnicity, biases and class to illuminate how they approach their homework.

In Matthew LeFebvre’s button-up suits, they look alike as they drift into the jury room at the start of the show. But in the end, you feel like you know each other. And, with the men acting as amateur “Only Murders in the Building” sleuths, we understand the gradual process that leads to their conclusion.

I have a question or two about the production. (Should Benjamin Olsen’s beautiful semi-realistic set feel more claustrophobic?) But, honestly, this “Twelve Angry Men” is as close to perfect as it gets. The electrifying cast creates a real whole. Director Peter Rothstein gives it shape, nuance and propulsive energy. It strikes a balance between feeling like the past but speaking urgency to today.

In short, it is a production that is running at full speed. One of the many world premieres Twin Cities viewers can enjoy this month, “Twelve Angry Men” is very much like a show happening. Right now though, it’s just for us and not to be missed.

Twelve angry men
Who: By Michael Holland and David Simpatico, based on the play by Reginald Rose. Directed by Peter Rothstein.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed-Fri, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE., MPs.
Tickets: $35 to $55, 612-339-3003 or latteda.org
Protocol: Masks and proof of vaccination (or negative COVID test) mandatory.