“All Is Calm” was first performed in a church auditorium in 2007. The nine singers of Cantus and three actors under the direction of Peter Rothstein presented this slender, poignant story of the Christmas Truce of World War I as a piece for radio listening — a concert with spoken word.
Hennepin Theatre Trust was eager to have Rothstein bring his show to the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis the following year and with the smallest bit of tinkering — a dark firmament, some twinkling stars and falling snow — the actors began to stretch their legs as they orated and the men of Cantus ably filled up the larger psychic space.
Cantus stepped away from the project this year, citing the group’s schedule, and Rothstein decided to use 12 musical theater actors and let the piece move across the stage with more theatricality. The fear here was that any change might curdle the sweet, aching rhythm of a ritual meditation on the human spirit’s capacity to find peace amid war.
The new staging of “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” opened Wednesday night at the Pantages and it is indeed different. It is better. Not a thing has been lost and much has been gained.
With the deepest respect for the men of Cantus and the three actors who went before, this small masterpiece has a unity and a vocal power that we had not experienced previously. In atmosphere, integration of story and song, mood and dynamics, the story burrows even deeper into the heart with the power of myth, were it not so sadly true.
Rothstein has brought back music director Erick Lichte, who fashioned the original arrangements (later added to by Timothy C. Takach), to work with his cast. The results are superb. Tenor Bryan Wells steps from the foggy dark to sing “Will Ye Go to Flanders” as the show opens with its melancholy evocation of warfare. Then follows the familiar litany of carols and texts — which Rothstein culled from soldier journals, letters, official proclamations and war histories.
Bass James Ramlet is a rock, an absolute rumbling mountain, as he recites Winston Churchill’s famous sentiment that if war were left to the enlisted men, there would be quick peace. Evan Tyler Wilson sings “O Holy Night” with breathtaking clarity and tone. “Auld Lang Syne” breaks the heart, and the emotional center of the show remains that moment when enemies come together to bury their dead and sing “Silent Night.”
This beautiful jewel has been made brighter, more precious in the best sense of the word. What is unchanged is its quiet power to illustrate peace on Earth.