'All is Calm' recreates real Christmas miracle

After a miserable week and discovering that I had a flat tire as I parked my car, it's safe to say I wasn't in the best of moods walking into the Pantages Theatre last night for All is Calm. And while this is a cliché, it was certainly true for me Thursday evening: I forgot all of that during the hour that the concert/theatrical production from the fine performers at Cantus and Theater Latte Da was on the stage.

Subtitled "The Christmas Truce of 1914," the piece explores a spontaneous, temporary halt to the fighting during the first Christmas of World War I, when the regular troops on both sides of No Man's Land put down their weapons before being ordered to resume the war's meat grinder. [jump]

During the truce, the soldiers mingled, exchanged gifts, and sang--which is where Cantus comes in. The nine-member ensemble makes absolutely gorgeous music together, be it for the early pieces about getting ready for war, the resulting reality of the trenches, or through a series of traditional carols and Christmas songs during the truce itself. Their arrangements draw fresh emotion out of the most familiar pieces, such as on "Silent Night," where they repeat and alter the tone of the "All is Calm" line until it becomes something mysterious and magical--just like the truce itself.

Aiding the story are a trio of actors who bring the tale to life via the recollections of the soldiers from both sides who fought during that first year and who found themselves participating in a rare bit of humanity amid all of the carnage. Mixed this with the music and the simple, but effective staging from director Peter Rothstein, and you have an absolutely beautiful night of theater.

Often times, holiday shows are either too schmaltzy or cynical. All is Calm strips any of that away. There was no order from on high for the truce to happen, no photo ops, no political gain. These everyday foot soldiers did, as one of them recollects, what even the Pope couldn't do: Stop the fighting for Christmas. That's a miracle I think any of us would take.

All is Calm runs through Sunday.