Given that Minnesota didn’t send troops to the Great War until December 1917, it may seem incongruous that our state has emerged as a hub for musical tributes to the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Despite the Scandinavian stereotypes, though, Minnesota’s largest ethnic group is German. Among the audience members audibly choking up during Sunday’s performance of Theater Latté Da’s All Is Calm, there may have been those whose parents told stories of when authorities tried to eliminate the German language in the state and suggested deploying armed patrols in New Ulm.
All Is Calm , originally developed by the company with Cantus Vocal Ensemble in 2007, has toured nationally and will soon reach an even broader audience: The production now onstage at the Ritz Theater is being filmed this month for a PBS broadcast next year. (In 2011 the Minnesota Opera premiered Silent Night, a different show about the same events; that opera went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.)
All Is Calm is a departure from Latté Da’s extravagant productions of musicals like Assassins and Chicago. Performed a cappella on a bare stage with minimal costume changes and just a few props, All Is Calm is a theatrical concert for a cast of 10 men.
Historical texts provide a soldier’s-eye view of the conflict and the unexpected ceasefire, seen largely from the British perspective. Succeeding sections touch on “The Optimistic Departure,” “The Grim Reality,” “The Truce,” and “The Return to Battle.” Musical selections range from marching songs to, of course, Christmas carols.
The show is designed to flow without interruption, so there’s no applause until the very end and the theater is sometimes so quiet that you can hear the patter of prop snow sprinkling onto the stage. Writer/director Peter Rothstein precisely conducts his fluid ensemble, telling the story through movement, text, and song.
It’s not a surprise that public television would take interest in All Is Calm; its emotional texture is akin to a Ken Burns documentary, informative yet contemplative, with period music providing the current that pulls the narrative along. As a live performance, though, All Is Calm asks you to be very much present with the onstage performers and the ghosts they summon.
The singing is sublime, with arrangements ranging from solo voices to a swelling mass; Timothy C. Takach and music director Erick Lichte have crafted richly textured versions of songs, including the climactic “Silent Night,” delivered by some of the area’s most remarkable voices. Standouts include the pure-voiced Evan Tyler Wilson, a vulnerable Riley McNutt, and the earth-shaking James Ramlet.
See All Is Calm on stage; in your living room it just won’t be the same. However you experience it, the show is a moving meditation on a rare moment when humankind’s better angels were allowed to prevail.
All Is Calm
Theater Latta Da
345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
612-339-3003; through December 29