‘All Is Calm’ a mes­sage of Christ­mas peace, beau­ti­fully staged and sung

Orlando Sentinel - - PEOPLE & ARTS - Matthew J. Palm The­ater & Arts Critic Find me on Twit­ter @mat­t_on_arts or email me at [email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com.

It might sound strange to sug­gest a mu­si­cal about war as per­fect for Christ­mas. But the magic of “All Is Calm,” on­stage at the Dr. Phillips Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, is how this World War I in­spired col­lec­tion of spo­ken word and song is re­ally all about peace.

In fact, “All Is Calm” has a mes­sage that should ring out loud and clear dur­ing this fes­tive sea­son. In Opera Or­lando’s pro­duc­tion, beau­ti­fully sung and staged, it does.

Opera Or­lando is pre­sent­ing the local pre­miere of Peter Roth­stein’s emo­tional homage to the or­di­nary sol­dier and the power of the hu­man spirit. Grant Preisser di­rects his pla­toon of nine singers with a de­cep­tive sim­plic­ity: Their move­ments seem nat­u­ral, even though I imag­ine they’ve been drilled to achieve pre­ci­sion.

Preisser’s stag­ing, too, fol­lows the sim­ple pat­tern of pro­duc­tions else­where: Hum­ble crates do yeo­man’s work. A well­timed snow­fall, cou­pled with Nate Wheat­ley’s thought­ful light­ing, works won­ders. And Kim Wel­born’s mil­i­tary cos­tumes are re­ally all you need to set the scene.

That scene is mostly north­ern Europe, as the true story of the famed Christ­mas truce of 1914 is told straight­for­wardly and com­pellingly through let­ters writ­ten by the men who were there. As the English, French and their al­lies fought the Ger­mans in bru­tal trench war­fare, both sides came to­gether on Dec. 25, 1914, for a few hours of ca­ma­raderie.

It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t or­dered. It was sim­ply peo­ple be­ing peo­ple — reach­ing out to each other and find­ing com­mon bonds, es­pe­cially through mu­sic. With­out preach­ing, “All Is Calm” clearly shows that

‘All Is Calm’

■ Length: 1:15, no in­ter­mis­sion

■ Where: Dr. Phillips Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, 445 S. Mag­no­lia Ave. ■ When: 2, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21; 2 p.m. Dec. 22 ■ Cost: $39-$79 ■ Info: 844-513-2104 or dr­phillip­s­cen­ter.org hu­mans are fun­da­men­tally good — and war is op­posed to our most ba­sic na­ture.

It helps that Opera Or­lando lets the­ater­go­ers get up close and per­sonal with the per­form­ers; “All Is Calm” is staged in the arts cen­ter’s small Pugh The­ater, with the au­di­ence seated on three sides of the ac­tion. It’s highly ef­fec­tive in mak­ing one feel part of this lit­tle bit of his­tory.

The per­form­ers read the sol­dier’s let­ters with­out Bri­tish or Ger­man ac­cents, but with heart, as they share real mo­ments of joy, fri­vol­ity, doubts and sor­row; Ed­ward Wash­ing­ton II and Lloyd Re­shard are par­tic­u­larly adept at paint­ing a pic­ture with their spo­ken words.

As to the mu­sic, the com­pany sings with­out ac­com­pa­ni­ment. Un­der the mu­sic di­rec­tion of Robin Jensen, their shim­mer­ing har­monies cre­ate a rich and of­ten thrilling sound.

There are a few mo­ments for in­di­vid­u­als to shine — Chad John­son soars through a French ren­di­tion of “O Holy Night,” Brent Doucette leads a ro­bust “Auld Lang Syne.” But ul­ti­mately, this is a true en­sem­ble piece. Each man has his part to play, a piece of a grander en­deavor, just as in the mil­i­tary.

In a few in­stances, the speak­ing and the back­ground singing com­pete for at­ten­tion, but the mes­sage is never mud­died: The peo­ple we think of as en­e­mies, whether in war or daily life, might be more like us than we re­al­ize.

“They looked more like univer­sity stu­dents than soldiers,” says one en­listed man in sur­prise upon meet­ing his “en­e­mies.”

“I now have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion of the Ger­mans,” says a Bri­tish solider, af­ter kick­ing around a soc­cer ball with the “other side.”

My Christ­mas wish is that the en­tire world rec­og­nizes the mes­sage of peace found in this pro­found and pro­foundly heart-stir­ring show.

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