Theater Latté Da’s World War I musical “All Is Calm” features an all-male cast but when it appears on PBS stations across the country next holiday season, its stars will include Mary Olberding and Kate Fandrey of Edina.
Admirers of the holiday favorite, set during the 1914 truce when soldiers on both sides of WWI sang carols and played games, needn’t worry that the show has been recast. It features the same cast that performs the sold-out show at Latté Da through Dec. 29 and did it in New York last year. But dozens of people, including Olberding and Fandrey, attended one of four PBS tapings last week. According to director/producer W.J. Lazerus, they were crucial.
“The audience helped us do it correctly,” said Lazerus, who expects to deliver the finished piece, which blends songs with readings from soldiers’ letters, to PBS by next summer. “I always feel like we’re imposing on the audience but I heard several times that they were fascinated by being on the inside of the process. And we really needed them to bring out the intimacy of this show. We had a microphone on the audiences because we need that ambience of a live performance.”
An unusually quiet live performance. Before the taping, house manager Luke Stiller told invited theatergoers (mostly subscribers and supporters of Latté Da, 27 of whom queued up 30 minutes before the doors opened) to be even quieter than usual. No playbills were handed out until afterward, to make sure there was no rustling, and coughers were asked to banish their colds until breaks.
Technicians frequently stopped and started the show, including three takes of opening number “Will Ye Go to Flanders?” with different camera positions. The pauses freaked out stage manager D. Marie Long a little — “Usually, in the theater, you only stop if it’s an absolute emergency” — but entertained the audience, which had to step over taped-down cords snaking throughout the Ritz Theater and lobby to get to their seats.
“It’s all so interesting,” said Fandrey. “I’ve seen the show before and I just love it: the music, seeing how the truce came together. It’s exciting to be able to share it with the rest of the country.”
Those are also the sentiments of Mary Beidler Gearen of St. Paul, a former Latté Da board member who co-produced the New York run.
“When they were capitalizing it for off-Broadway, I got wind of it and texted Peter [Rothstein the show’s writer/director] and said, ‘Peter, this is what I do.’ I ended up calling Laura Little and saying, ‘I want to make sure this capitalizes. I want to help as much as I can,” said Gearen, who found a “kindred spirit” in Little, a producer of the New York run and the PBS version.
“I saw a production at a Coeur d’Alene community theater maybe five years ago,” said Idaho-based Little. “I’d produced some other shows and when something touches you that deeply, you just want to share it. The show has such a subtle beauty to it, and I kind of feel like it’s going to be a gift to viewers to be able to see it every year. They can have it on in the background when they make Christmas cookies, if they don’t have time to watch but they want the beautiful music, and they can enjoy it year after year. They’re also creating educational components so English, drama and history teachers can use it.”
Little had planned to marry Jim Barnes on a cruise ship next month but was so moved by seeing everything come together for TV that they tied the knot on the Latté Da stage at the Ritz Theater last week, the cast serenading them with “Silent Night” just before the third of four tapings.
“It was going to be just us but my two best friends are investors in the show and they were coming in for the taping and I developed such a great relationship with the boys in the show in New York, it seemed like a perfect idea,” Little said. “My two favorite things in the world together: this show and this man [Barnes].”
The 2½-hour taping of the 65-minute play was mostly solemn, with the audience hushed when it was supposed to be, so technicians could be heard shouting out, “F-stop 3!” and “Actors hold, please!” But moments of levity crept in during pauses.
“Hi, Mom and Dad!” shouted actor Riley McNutt from the stage, breaking from his WWI character to wave at patrons in the first few rows. And when actor Sasha Andreev was asked to restart a scene wherever he wanted to, he replied sarcastically, “Me, decide?” To which another actor quickly cracked, “We only have until 5 o’clock, Sasha.”
According to Lazerus, he got everything he and about 20 “exceptional” local crew members needed.
“In my entire career, this is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had. The quality of the actors and the people who were supporting them in the theater group is so wonderful. They were so easy to work with and so all-in,” Lazerus said. “This is going to play wonderfully on PBS.”