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Nearly two years elapsed between the first preview and opening night of Theater Latté Da's "La Bohème." It was worth the wait.

Originally set to open the March 2020 weekend that COVID shut everything down, Giacomo Puccini's classic finally has arrived, reshaped so it sits somewhere between opera and Latté Da's musical theater wheelhouse. The setting is shifted from the 1830s to 1940, when the Nazis occupied Paris, and the accompaniment is not an orchestra but a combo — piano, guitar, woodwinds, violin and accordion. Under the direction of Sonja Thompson, the lovely melodies feel different from, not less than (Joseph Schlefke did the orchestrations).

If Puccini were writing now, he might call this show "Hipsters," since it remains their tale. Four friends live in a Paris attic, not quite eking out livelihoods in the arts while looking for love. Poet Rodolfo (Benjamin Dutcher's plaintive tenor was the soul of the production) falls for embroiderer Mimi (Siena Forest), who pops by his hovel, looking for a match. And Marcello (Tony Potts) pursues Musetta (Katherine Henly), whose Marilyn Monroe wig reveals all you need to know about her fidelity.

Actually, if Puccini wrote "La Bohème" now, he might call it "Rent," since Jonathan Larson's update is how most theater fans know this story. It measures a year in the life of its young characters, showing the sacrifices they make to create the sort of autobiographical work we're enjoying.

That registers strongly in Peter Rothstein's staging, which brings us up-close to the characters' struggles but preserves the original's light touch. Given how much heartache is on stage — even more so in this production, since the Nazis force one of the characters to wear a star to mark him as Jewish — it's surprisingly playful. Rothstein finds humor in unexpected places — even in the format of the Italian-to-English titles projected above the stage — in a way that emphasizes the resilience of youth.

It also emphasizes our good fortune since, whether it's the Bohemians of Puccini's day or Kendrick Lamar today, great artists continue to rise above their circumstances to enrich us.

The romance is the tricky part of "La Bohème." Catching up with Rodolfo and Mimi over the course of months has always made their love hazy. When does he realize her ominous cough means trouble? And does their frequent parting/reuniting signal true love or a Tinder match that was never meant to be?

Rothstein does what he can to make sense of this — a duet in which they sing about how terrible it is to be alone in winter registers the tension of commitment as they slowly circle each other, far apart on the stage, until finally giving in to a kiss. But the details of their courtship remain confusing.

Fortunately, Puccini and collaborators Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who wrote the libretto, make those qualms vanish with a wrap-up that's both tragic and hopeful. Long story short, it's not over until the coughing lady sings and the sun rises again, with its promise of a new day.

'La Bohème'

Who: By Giacomo Puccini, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Directed by Peter Rothstein.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 27.

Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Av. NE., Mpls.

Protocol: Proof of full course of vaccine or negative test within 72 hours. Masks required.

Tickets: $35-$53, 612-339-3003 or