My first Experience with All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, came in late 2019 when my wife and I were in the audience while they filmed the production to air on PBS. That experience though filled with starts and stops as multiple takes were done of various scenes still gave us a taste of something wonderful. Last year we watched the full uninterrupted production on PBS. This year We sat second row, dead center, and were enveloped in the beauty of this magnificent work. If you’ve only seen All is Calm on PBS you are only getting a fraction of its power. For a little over an hour, ten men sang songs that were over 100 years old, sometimes in languages I do not speak, and I was under their spell completely.
All is Calm tells the story of the spontaneous truce that occured on Christmas day 1914 in the Trenches of the western front during World War I. The play opens in complete darkness, then a voice cuts through the silence singing acapella “Will Ye Go to Flanders?”. A shiver runs up your spine. Slowly lights come up as one lone man emerges from the darkness and takes center stage. Then slowly as if out of the past the others appear. Throughout the show the performers stand in for the real men who fought that hellish war. They will read dialogue that is taken from actual letters, journals, official war documents, and even poetry among various other sources. It is through these spoken snippets and the songs that are sung that we follow the pulse of those early days of the first world war. The first songs and dialogue are about the thrill of joining up, doing your part for King and country. But then the grim reality of war sets in and the tone changes. We get a sense of what living and fighting in the trenches was like day after day. Then Christmas comes and with it the truce and we experience through the eyes of these men the universal truth that we are all the same underneath. What a beautiful reminder at this time of year and in this world we live in. And as always happens, Christmas ends, and so does the truce. The soldiers who were exchanging gifts, taking photographs together and playing football in no man’s land, go back to fighting for another three years.
All is Calm was created and directed by Peter Rothstein who is also the Founding Artistic Director of Theater Latte Da. The musical arrangements are by the Music Director Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach. The marvel of the show is the way the songs weave together and the layering of the harmonies. Sitting in the theater listening to these ten voices working in unison without the aid of musical instruments, just their voices creating some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard. Flowing from one song into another, sometimes in concert with each other and then having a performer step forward and become a young Scottish soldier or a gruff German Sergeant. Adding a human voice to the chorus of angels, giving us the context within the emotion. It is an accomplishment that will surely rank among their greatest creative achievements. Completing what is about as near as you can get to a perfect production is the work of Lighting Designer Marcus Dilliard. The key to the look of this production is simplicity, it is a black wardrobe, black backdrop and the lighting sells the mood, the setting. It’s subtle in its perfection, it’s the slight lowering or raising of the light to just exactly the right level. It looks simple because it feels meant to be. The Costumes by Designer Trevor Bowen also simple, but undeniably right. Everything about All is Calm, even the backdrop which is mostly black, but at times shows clouds, mist, a moon and stars, is simple, but perfect. It all comes together to create an experience so beautiful, so engrossing, that you don’t want it to be over. In fact, if there is one complaint it’s that the show isn’t longer.
To say that the cast is full of terrific singers is to undersell them. these are not great singers they are vocal Gods. From the first song which seems to transport you to the Scottish highlands from your seat in north Minneapolis. These voices envelope you and carry you along to war. Normally I would single out my favorite performers but that is impossible, they are to a man, brilliant. There were several new faces in the cast from the ones I had seen during the filming and on PBS. And one member of the cast that was there before and was in the program but wasn’t on stage was James Ramlet, Counting the cast member from this program and the program I have from 2019 I suspect that Ramlet and another performer must alternate. I may have to try and see it again before it closes to compare. Honestly, it’s the sort of show you wish you could have a season pass to, so you could just drop in any night and let the music wash over you.
All Is Calm runs through Jan 2nd 2022 at The Ritz Theater in North Minneapolis. This is the best Musical theatrical Christmas show you are going to find this year or any. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.latteda.org/