December 15, 2011.By Rob Hubbard, Pioneer Press.
What happens when something small, simple and straightforward becomes the basis for something big, splashy and spectacular?
Such is the case with the story of the Christmas truce of 1914. It's an inspiring tale, one in which Allied and German soldiers serenaded one another with Christmas carols across a Belgian battlefield, then climbed out of their trenches to celebrate the holiday together.
Twin Cities audiences were introduced to the details of the story four years ago when "All Is Calm" was first staged by Theater Latte Da and the male vocal group Cantus, a production currently being revived at Minneapolis' Pantages Theatre. But, last month, the Minnesota Opera blew the story up to eye-popping proportions with "Silent Night," a new opera by Kevin Puts that gave a sense of the enormity of war, a giant cast making its way around a complex rotating set.
But "All Is Calm" holds its own by offering a distinctly different take on the same events.
The opera did a very impressive job of conveying the chaos of battle and the grand import of the decision to humanize the enemy, but "All Is Calm" makes it much more intimate and individual, the simplicity of its staging underlining the premise that peace is still a person-to-person thing.
That comes through very clearly when you only have 12 performers, a set of risers and three wooden crates onstage. Starlight, snow and fog are the extent of the technical trickery, so this is a production that must succeed on story and song. And it does so, thanks to Peter Rothstein's judicious selections from letters and documents, brought to life by actors Matt Rein, David Roberts and Alan Sorenson.
But especially thanks to the nine men of Cantus, whose harmonies are the heart and spirit of this work. It is they who vividly convey the combination of excitement and fear as soldiers answer the call to arms, their sadness as death tolls mount, and the hope and wonder as the truce ensues. The stories are strong, but it's the music that makes "All Is Calm" such a touching experience.
Rob Hubbard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Cantus, Theater Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust's production of "All Is Calm" by Peter Rothstein
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Tickets: $35-$15, available at 800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org
Capsule: An intimate, involving story well sung.