December 14, 2011.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.
Over the years, vocal group Cantus and Theater Latte Da have crafted a new holiday tradition with the annual presentation of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914. The piece collects music, poems, and remembrances of that singular event, when soldiers from both sides of No Man's Land stopped shooting to celebrate the season of peace.
"It's such a poignant story," says Cantus's Aaron Humble. "So much Christmas programming is saccharine sweet, and this definitely goes deeper. We all appreciate that."
"It speaks to the audience," adds director and writer Peter Rothstein. "I think we underestimate what our audience wants. We don't have to create fluff for Christmas. The success of the show is a testament to the audience who wants something meaningful. They want something that moves them."
The piece merges vocal performances by the eight members of Cantus with a trio of actors (David Roberts, Alan Sorenson, and newcomer Matt Rein), who retell the remarkable events that played out over the frozen battlefield, creating an all-too-brief pause in one of the bloodiest periods of the 20th century. Since its debut several years ago, the piece has become tremendously popular in all of its versions.
Between Thanksgiving and the performances at the Pantages, Cantus tours the country with the concert version of the show. In Minneapolis, the full version -- including the music, actors, and other set pieces -- are brought together.
"Minneapolis is the only place we do the full, staged production with costume and lights, and there's a real satisfying feeling to it," Humble says.
Part of the 2011 edition of the piece is a new actor, Rein. "It's the first time we've had a new actor in it, and I think that's good for the company; to have new blood see it with fresh eyes, and to put their own stamp on it," Rothstein says.
Though the show includes many familiar carols, along with World War I-era favorites audiences may recognize, the events that surround it provide a fresh context. Even a prelude of carols is tied to the Great War. They were arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams for the men he served with in the medical corps.
During each of the recollections, the soldier's name is included. "I love that these characters, who are not names in the history books, have their names said out loud every time the show plays. I love that these names are said aloud across the country as part of this piece of history they were in," Rothstein says.
IF YOU GO:
All Is Calm Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis Thursday-Sunday $25-$35 For information and tickets, call 1.800.982.2787 or visit online.