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Rosebud Theatre’s a cappella musical is a solemn, deeply moving condemnation of war.
Sadly, because of current global conflicts, All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 resonates far more than it should 109 years after the event that inspired it.
On Christmas Day in 1914, just five months into the First World War, in a field near Ypres, Belgium, the German and Allied troops left their respective trenches to meet in the wasteland known as No Man’s Land that had separated them for months. There they exchanged small gifts, showed each other photos of their loved ones, drank what little alcohol they could scrounge, played a game of soccer, sang Christmas carols and buried their dead.
For a few brief hours, the power of camaraderie and music triumphed over ideologies and hostilities.
Using 35 songs and excerpts from letters written by those soldiers, Peter Rothstein tells this story in the simplest of terms, but it’s a simplicity that packs an emotional wallop.
I was moved to tears midway through Rosebud Theatre’s 80-minute show when a German soldier sang O Tennenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree) in response to the British soldiers singing We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Through carols, they found a common language that would give them the courage to lay down their weapons and, literally, embrace each other.
The songs in All is Calm, arranged for a cappella by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, are familiar Scottish, German, Dutch, British, and French tunes but they have a different feeling and resonance when sung by Rosebud’s chorus of eight powerful male voices, where the harmonies are particularly striking.
Director Morris Ertman has cast not just for vocal strengths, but visual as well. There are young actors like Joel Braun, Mark Kazakov and Kenaniah Love Schnare, but also mature actors like Tim Dixon, Blair Young and Aaron Krogman creating an excellent balance, especially when each actor steps briefly into a different character. There are even appearances from Pope Benedict XV, Winston Churchill, and poets Robert Burns, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
This is a true ensemble piece with the eight men working like a precision timepiece, but Steven Morton does have a breakout moment when he sings Minuit Chretiens (Oh Holy Night), and Griffin Cork lends his powerful baritone to lead the others in a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne, which coaxed audible tears and cheers from the capacity crowd at the Rosebud Opera House.
Ertman does a fine job of keeping All is Calm from seeming static by creating some stunning tableaus. Greatly enhanced by Becky Halterman’s lighting, Ertman’s staging almost seems like a series of postcards. Carolyn Rapanos’ set instantly sets the time, place and mood, and is highly functional, allowing for the powerful sequence when the men erect crosses for their fallen comrades, and for that final image of stars and lights in the distant trees.
It’s Bill Hamm’s fine work as musical director that ensures All is Calm is such a special and heartfelt experience.
All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 plays at Rosebud Theatre until Dec. 23.
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