Twelve Angry Men started life as a television script in 1954 then was quickly adapted into a stage play and in 1957, a film starring a cast of recognizable actors led by Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. I am very familiar with the film version having first seen and fallen in love with it in junior high. It has now been about six or seven years since I last saw the film and I consciously chose to avoid watching it before seeing this musical adaption. I didn’t want my reaction to this new take on the material to be constantly hung up on noticing changes in details, but give it as much room as I could to allow it to breathe and be its own thing. After seeing this production I asked myself, does it need to be a musical? My honest answer is no. But, unlike some other plays or movies that we’ve seen given the musical conversion, it doesn’t hurt or cheapen the story either. It’s a powerful script, performed by some of the best actors and singers in the Twin Cities. As a retelling of this classic, the casting decisions and the lense through which we view it today adds to what was already a powerhouse of a play. Those aspects, much more than the songs, added to the original in a way that feels relevant and important.
With a book adapted from Reginald Rose’s original play by David Simpatico and music and lyrics by Michael Holland, Twelve Angry Men makes minor tweaks to the details of the story and characters, but they always work. Those changes add meaning to the story in a way that reflects its cast and the our perspective as a modern audience. The original play holds up today, this adaptation builds on what was there and results in a production that even more powerful, which is quite a feat. Simpatico’s contributions enrich the narrative, whereas Holland’s simply reinforce them with a few exceptions. It’s hard to write about specific songs from the show when a list of songs isn’t available, but there were a couple of songs that conveyed a deeper understanding of what a juror was trying to convey. One example and probably the best song was sung by T. Mychael Rambo as Juror #9 about what it’s like to be elderly and forgotten, though this was slightly undercut by the fact it was hard to understand every lyric. Which was an issue occasionally throughout the production, though usually when all twelve jurors were singing at once. If you’re not familiar with the plot let me simply state it takes place in the deliberation room where a jury of twelve men must determine if they think a young man on trial for murdering his father is guilty or not guilty. But as one juror reminds them over and over, they are not really deciding if he is guilty or innocent, they are deciding if there is a reasonable doubt that he might not be guilty, that isn’t the same as being innocent. If they find him guilty he will be sentenced to death, that alone makes one juror vote against the majority, feeling that a man’s life is worth spending at least a little time discussing.
Look, this production is very faithful in plot and tone to earlier versions and like every iteration that has come before it, it will rise and fall on the performers. This cast has several stellar performances and zero bad ones. This I imagine is an actors dream play whether it’s the original script or this new musical version. While an ensemble show, all jurors are not created equal. There are several that get significantly less to do and a few who are clearly the leads, but everyone makes their mark and an impression on the audience. At 90 minutes it’s amazing that, especially with the additions of songs, each character becomes known by the audience, it’s a testament to the entire casts skills. Standouts in the cast are Curtis Bannister as Juror #8 the initial sole holdout who votes not guilty. James Detmar, is the angry racist and offensive Juror #10. He is so intense throughout, when he explodes or gets on a roll, all eyes are instantly on him. Sasha Andreev as Juror #4, plays it cool and collected and it is his holdout as a guilty verdict that actually feels valid, he does a subtle job of staying calm when others are ranting and the counterpoint allows the attention to be drawn to him when appropriate. This is in danger of becoming a list of 12 actors names as I look through the cast list there is something specific and positive to say about everyone of them, which should tell you all you need to know right there.
Ordinarily I am an advocate for sitting as close to the stage as possible, but this is one show where I would recommend being at least in the fifth row or further back. The set is built on a giant turntable and to get the full effect and to be able to see all of the performers since there is almost always 12 full grown men of stage competing for sight lines. Peter Rothstein directs the play with the music direction by Denise Prosek. Rothstein does some very interesting things in this production a choice to freeze all of the characters while one sings a song was especially effective. He also utilizes the turntable effectively, especially when the jurors are initially going around the table expressing why they think the boy on trial is guilty. The Set Design by Benjamin Olsen is cool looking, we see the ceiling molding that lines the room, and baseboards, a door, a clock hanging on a wall, some things hanging on the walls, but no walls. The walls don’t exist instead we see the theater walls and the lights. Like I say it looks cool, I liked the idea when I saw it last week at The Roommate at Mixed Blood, there it was so we could see what was happening outside of the house, here it just looks cool, but I didn’t see a larger reason behind it.
Twelve angry Men runs through July 17th at Theater Latte Da in North Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.latteda.org/twelve-angry-men-2022
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