Carrboros ArtsCenter is offering a new holiday entertainment that deserves to be an annual classic. All Is Calm conveys the story of World War Is Christmas Eve truce in 1914. Told through text and song, it proves a moving testament to peace on Earth, good will toward men.
Minneapolis-based choral arrangers Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach collaborated with director Peter Rothstein on this one-hour work thats a cross between a play and a concert. Excerpts from letters and diaries of British, French and German troops, along with official military communications and snippets of war poems, tell about the night when soldiers began singing carols in a meager holiday observance. Then a lone German stood up, singing Stille Nacht, the Allied doughboys joined in, and suddenly there was an unarmed gathering from both sides for food, drink and camaraderie. Unfortunately, commanding officers soon ordered all back to the trenches and the killing continued.
The show has familiar holiday songs arranged for unaccompanied male voices in rich, multi-part harmonies, transforming such favorites as O Tannenbaum, Good King Wenceslas and O Holy Night, into brand new pieces. The slightly dissonant arrangements sound wistful and chilly, perfectly limning the feeling of that particular evening. The show also has heartily sung ditties such as Keep The Home Fires Burning and Pack Up Your Troubles.
The ArtsCenter cast consists of 11 members of Chapel Hill-based Cantari Mens Ensemble. Five speak the texts, taking on different personas and accents. John Paul Middlesworth has the most experience and confidence, but Dale Bailey, Darin Knapp, Michael Shannon and David Sroka each find affecting moments. Joined by singers Eric Dashman, Adam Dengler, Ryan Frazer, Scott Goodwin, John Irwin and Graham White, they perform impressively precise, velvet-toned vocals. Sue Klausmeyers superb musical direction makes for gripping, quietly emotional renditions.
Director Jeri Lynn Schulke arrays the singers over Michael Brockis wintery setting of sandbags and ammunition crates, giving them just enough movement to ward off concert formations. Chelsea Kurtzmans heavily layered uniforms, along with onstage fog and snow, add to the palpable cold and dreariness.
The characterizations and accents could be stronger, but the sincerity and simplicity of the production is so satisfying that audiences can easily take away the message that good will is better than war.