Regional Reviews: St. Louis
All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914
Music Director Joe Schoen creates a cathedral's worth of stained glass windows made entirely of sound, using only the perfectly modulated voices of some of this town's best male performers. Ten men sing almost impossibly beautiful harmonies, and make us laugh, and also fill us with dread for their fates, for about 75 minutes, as we hear songs and stories leading up to the amazing, unofficial truce on the Western Front, on Christmas Eve.
The songs range from the spiritually sublime to the politically relevant, and even a few dashes of ragtime thrown in to help mark the period. It's a show that merges actors who sing with singers who act, and between those two rival camps, we get a complete artistic experience in song and story.
Director Deanna Jent weaves it all together with a rapid-fire series of real-life accounts of the men trapped in the infamous trenches (both British and German) in that snowy December. They magically came together in peace, despite the conflict that swallowed them whole. Peter Rothstein wrote this fast-paced a capella musical with vocal arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach that are frequently complex and gorgeous.
Among the highlights of this engrossing show is a version of "Silent Night" with verses from other songs spliced in here and there; a solo by Antonio Rodriguez, as a famed tenor serving in the trenches, singing "O, Holy Night"; and a group rendition of "I Want To Go Home," which ends on a note of such quiet desperation that the men's smallest remaining joys soon become as great as the wealth of the all world.
You could even call it a "million dollar cast" of stage veterans, ranging from the excellent Gary Glasgow down to the fresh-faced Luke Steingruby who (even though he's clearly the youngest of the ten) has 13 years' experience already. That "million dollar" figure is partly based on their great professionalism, and also on my own rough calculations of how much they must have all spent, combined, on gas and drive-thru meals (and the occasional drink after the show) up till now: just getting to and from theaters, for most of their lives.
Their plain stoic uniforms, meticulously correct, help to heighten the character and emotions on the faces of each man as they begin their long, miserable service in the trenches. And, after that miraculous Christmas, it's inevitable, and yet astonishing, how quickly things change back to "normal."
Through November 24, 2013, at the Fontbonne University Black Box Theatre (on the south end of the campus) at 6800 Wydown Blvd. Enter via Big Bend Blvd. For more information call (314) 719-8060 or visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com .
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the USA.