Photo credit Dan Norman
Forget the singing Santa’s and athletic elves, this simple direct-to-the-heart
production will eclipse any other Christmas show and should be a perennial for
Christmas, Easter and/or anytime your faith in humanity needs healing.
as presented by the Theater Latte Da at the Sheen Center, is made all the more
poignant because this is the story of a real event, told through letters
written by its participants.
is the story of the “Christmas Truce” that occurred in 1914 between the
soldiers on the front lines, in direct contravention of the orders of their
superior officers. On Christmas Eve, some German soldiers lit a Christmas tree,
emerged from their trench singing “Stille Nacht” and approached the Allied
lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’
native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing
the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the
enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes, plum puddings and
even some whiskey (courtesy, no doubt, of the Scottish Brigade). They sang
carols and songs, tried on each other’s helmets, exchanged stories of
themselves and their families, and even played a good-natured game of soccer.
Before it ended, the soldiers agreed to use the short-lived ceasefire for a
more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen
within the no-man’s land between the lines. One soldier recounted that
“Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together
as our friends for a time.” Another wrote: “I shall never forget it, it was one
of the highlights of my life.”
makes the story more touching is the fact that it took place during the first
year of the War, when passions on both sides would have been at their highest,
and without any authorization by the generals or superior officers on either
side. In fact, on December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV had suggested a temporary
cease fire for the celebration of Christmas. Although the general staffs
refused, on Christmas Day the soldiers in the trenches declared their own
unofficial truce. It
is interesting to note that the War lasted three more years and the Truce was
not repeated, no doubt because soldiers were specifically warned by their
superiors that any fraternization with enemy soldiers would be met with strict
discipline. It served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the
brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured, if only for
one day. As one soldier noted, “For one day, no man’s land became everyman’s
Rothstein conceived All Is Calm in 2007 as a radio musical drama (it has
been performed on NPR), using only music and text. The story is told in the
documentary style made famous by Ken Burns, with the actors reciting letters,
journals, war documents, even poetry from soldiers who served in the trenches on
the front lines in France, after which they identify the soldier by name, rank
and battalion. Interspersed is the beautiful music, consisting of a capella
renditions of trench songs, patriotic and sentimental tunes, as well as
Christmas music and carols popular at the time, in the languages of the
cast of ten singers constantly changed accents as they recited the
aforementioned texts from soldiers of different sides and regions. Musical
Director and Arranger Erick Lichte, together with co-Arranger Timothy Takach
are responsible for blending the musical numbers into a coherent whole.
cannot overstate the beauty of the male chorus, a glorious assemblage of voices
superbly blended in sophisticated arrangements of what were previously
considered simple Christmas carols and popular songs of the era, now worthy of
their own concert evening.
many of the group have returned year after year to join the show is reflected in
their seemingly effortless transitions from song to song offering testament to
the dedication to its message and the beauty of its delivery. Their belief in
the material is evident in the depth and sensitivity which they bring to the
is through song that the story is told. And the music traverses the arc from the
naďve exhilaration of those enlisting in what was believed to be a short
skirmish: “Come on and Join”, “God Save the King”; to grim reality “I Want to
go Home” “When this bloody war is over”, “Rain, rain, Rain”, “Deutschland,
Deutschland Uber Ales”.
then to the focus of the musical: the Christmas songs that united the enemy
camps in their similar motivation: among them “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”,
“Di Wacht am Rhein” and that international chestnut “O Tannenbaum”.
the Truce songs that enticed the soldiers out of their trenches: “Stille Nacht”,
“Angels We Ave Heard on High”. A tenor from the Paris Opera in the
French army pierces the atmosphere with “O Holy Night”.
the incredibly moving rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” as the soldiers reluctantly
retreated to their trenches, truce over, creating an the experience that will
remain with audience members for a long time after they leave the theater.
is ingenious is that not a shot is fired nor a bomb dropped – the violence is
alluded to without sound effects. But the drama is there nevertheless as
directed with a stunning simplicity by Peter Rothstein that belies the strength
behind the message.
Bowen clothes the actor/singers in nondescript black uniforms that serve as
uniforms for both sides (except for the famous pointed helmets worn by the
German soldiers, and kilts worn by those from Scotland),
exception is the raincoat worn by cast member James Ramlet, who is a dead
ringer for Winston Churchill and changes character merely by smoking his cigar.
Dilliard’s lighting enables the actors to “switch sides” unobtrusively as well
as creating moods from jubilation in the beginning to the ultimate desolation.
Once in a very rare a while do you discover an experience that
conveys the true meaning of Christmas. Its anti war message is invaluable. This beautiful
story will leave its distinct imprint from the stage to your heart and remain
there long after you leave the theater.
deserves to take its place as one of the classic Christmas productions.
will continue at the Loreto Theater, Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street, through
December 30, 2018.
are available by visiting www.alliscalm.org.