The Southeast premiere of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, concluding its all-too-short two-week run this weekend at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC, stirs the soul. This ArtsCenter Stage presentation of the hour-long 2007 radio musical drama written by Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, is a true symphonic drama in which 11 members from the Cantari Men’s Ensemble sings songs of the times — traditional ballads, patriotic ditties, marching songs, and Christmas hymns and carols — all a cappella, wearing the World War I uniforms of both sides as they also recite pertinent bits of poetry, excerpts from the letters and dispatches, even inscriptions from grave markers.
Adam Dengler starts the program with a lovely solo on the traditional Scottish folksong “Will Ye Go to Flanders,” and later takes the lead on “Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire.” Dale Bailey is lead vocalist on “Les Godillots” (French for “The Clodhoppers”) and “Christmas Day in the Cookhouse.” Ryan Frazer has a solo in the “Christmas in the Camp/We Wish You a Merry Christmas” medley, and Michael Shannon and Graham White’s solos on “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night,” respectively, are particularly poignant.
Other highlights include solos by John Paul Middlesworth and Adam Dengler and a duet by John Irwin and Ryan Frazer on “Wassail” and solos by Middlesworth and Michael Shannon and a trio by Graham White, Ryan Frazer, and Eric Dashman on “Auld Lang Syne.”
Other well-chosen and expertly performed numbers include the British music hall song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” the World War I marching song “Pack Up your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag,” the 1914 British patriotic song “Keep the Homefires Burning (‘Till the Boys Come Home),” the satire of army life “I Want to Go Home,” and the increasingly ironic “We’re Here Because We’re Here.”
The Cantari Men’s Ensemble not only makes beautiful music together, but also captures and communicates the spirit of the “mud larks” in the English, Scottish, French, and German trenches most eloquently. Director Jeri Lynn Schulke orchestrates the action splendidly and never allows this powerful anti-war statement to become maudlin, and musical director Sue Klausmeyer helps the Cantari Men’s Ensemble lift their voices and sing every note superbly.
The simple but evocative set of scenic designer Michael Brocki and the muddy military outfits of costume designer Chelsea Kurtzman combine to create a vivid panorama of a godforsaken patch of No Man’s Land, which lighting designer Lawruh Lindsey lights most expressively.
All Is Calm shows what happens when the rocket’s red glare dims a little, and soldiers on both sides of a bitterly fought conflict give peace a chance — for even a day. Needless to say, the top branch on both sides pitched hissy fits about the Christmas Day fraternization of their armies in 1914, and forbade it for the rest of the war, which slogged on for nearly four more years and has to rank at or near the top of history’s most senseless slaughters.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 12th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/all-is-calm-recalls-the-night-in-1914-when-soldiers-didnt-fight-at-christmas/Content?oid=3215988; Dec. 11th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/12/10/2536984/review-a-christmas-eve-truce-with.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 7th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/12/the-artscenter-will-stage-the-radio-musical-drama-all-is-calm-the-christmas-truce-of-1914-dec-7-16/.)
ArtsCenter Stage presents ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 at 8 p.m. Dec. 13-15 and 3 p.m. Dec. 16 in the Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater at The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina 27510.
TICKETS: $16 in advance and $18 the day of the show, except $4-per-ticket discounts for students and seniors 62+ and $13 for ArtsCenter Friends.
BOX OFFICE: 919-929-2787, ext 201, or http://www.etix.com/.
All Is Calm (radio play): http://www.alliscalm.org/ (official website).
Peter Rothstein: http://www.peter-rothstein.com/ (official website).
The Christmas Truce of 1914: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.