All is not calm in the company of “All Is Calm” as Theater Latté Da’s play prepares for national exposure.
On Dec. 9-11, PBS will tape four invitation-only performances of the musical. The results will be edited together and made available to TV stations for the 2020 holiday season. At this point, it’s not clear if the show will end up as part of a series such as “Great Performances” or under another rubric, but it will air across the country a year from now.
Since its premiere at Westminster Presbyterian Church in 2007, “All Is Calm” has become something of a phenomenon. Written by Latté Da co-founder Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, the show commemorates the Christmas Truce of 1914, when soldiers on both sides of World War I laid down their arms to sing together. The show weaves together carols, letters and other materials from actual soldiers.
Since its debut, it has had 12 Latté Da runs (Nov. 27-Dec. 29 this year), toured and been produced by theater and opera companies around the world. Last year, Latté Da earned a Drama Desk Award for a run in New York, where Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, saw it and decided it needed a broader audience.
In a news release, Harrison praised the show’s reminder that even in chaotic times, “It is still possible to find a connection to our shared humanity.”
WNET, New York’s PBS affiliate, is funding production of a film version, to be directed and produced by W.J. Lazerus, who began thinking about how it could work on TV during the first of several visits to see it.
“What we love about television is those significant, private moments where characters go beyond their own lives to bigger and more profound issues,” said Lazerus, who thinks the spareness of the minimally staged production suits TV’s intimacy.
Rothstein recalls how the show has grown and changed since its first reading, in front of “about 10 people.” The first time it was performed in public, in collaboration with vocal ensemble Cantus, thousands heard it on an MPR simulcast.
Lazerus and a local crew of about 20 will set up their command center in the rehearsal space behind Latté Da’s stage.
In addition to seeing the show, the invited audience will get a peek behind the scenes of TV production.
“We have the luxury of stopping and starting. Whether we do that or not will depend on how things are going. If we think, ‘Oh, we need to move that camera six inches to the left and start again,’ we can,” said Lazerus, who will remove some theater seats to fit in cameras.
Actor Sasha Andreev, who has been with “All Is Calm” for three years, believes the music connects it to a wide audience.
“The potential for millions of people to see it, in whatever form it broadcasts, is really exciting,” said Andreev, who has appeared on many local stages and soundstages, including hosting HGTV’s “Curb Appeal.” “The other neat thing is there’s the potential for it to play year after year, for it to be watched decades from now, when I’m no longer physically performing it, and I can potentially share it with my own children.”
Over the years, numerous research trips overseas have helped Rothstein find new “All Is Calm” material. But, from the beginning, he knew the piece should include the names of people who fought the war but are not mentioned in history books.
“I think there’s great power in that, because these stories had not been told,” said Rothstein, who has each soldier say his name before speaking. “That was the goal behind creating it this way, and it is absolutely thrilling that more people will hear not only this story but the names of those men, who are my heroes.”