Sunday, November 23, 2014

ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 • Mustard Seed Theatre

"All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914", was originally presented as a radio show on Minnesota Public Radio by the vocal ensemble, Cantus and Theatre Latte Da, until Mustard Seed Theatre gave this a cappella musical a fully staged production last year. The musical's text is comprised of letters and historic documents associated with a brief truce that occurred during World War I on Christmas Eve, with songs ranging from folk tunes and traditional carols to patriotic hymns and ballads. It remains, like last season's production, an aural feast.

Everyone from last season's award winning ensemble cast (and practically all of the crew) is back for this season's revival, and along with an additional number ("Good-By-Ee"), there are also several subtle changes in the staging that enhance the presentation. The show is broken down into sections -- "The Optimistic Departure", "The Grim Reality ", "Christmas", "The Truce", "The Return to Battle", and an Epilogue. Within these sections, the audience is taken through the soldiers' nervous excitement heading out on the open sea to battle the Germans (a battle that many thought would be over with by Christmas), the bleak gloom of war at the front -- from rat infested trenches and sniper fire to the loss of comrades, the short truce on Christmas Eve where cigarettes, rum and gifts were exchanged, along with a lively game of football, and the sobering joint burial of the dead. Once superior officers find out about the fraternization of the troops, they put an end to it, bringing the saddening return to battle.

Luke Steingruby, Gary Glasgow, Shawn Bowers,
Christopher Hickey, Charlie Barron, Jason Meyers,
Tim Schall, J. Samuel Davis,
(front row) Jeffrey Wright and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Under Joe Schoen's musical direction, the voices of this cast of 10, including Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis, Gary Glasgow, Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright, are exceptional. They marvelously handle songs with gentle, solemn harmonies like, "The Old Barbed Wire" and "I Want to Go Home". Then there are songs that begin in unison and blossom into these full, thick chords several notes deep with refreshing harmony turns and chill-inducing dynamic changes like the haunting prologue,"Will Ye Go to Flanders?", "Wassail" (my fave), "Auld Lang Syne" and "Silent Night", that fluidly dissolves during the last quarter of the number into the titular "All Is Calm". The monologues work into the music so easily, it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Love. There's also much mirth to be had in songs and passages in last half of "Christmas in the Camp" and "Good King Wenceslas", and a special shout out to Antonio Rodriguez for his solo, "Minuit chrétiens (O Holy Night)". I said this last year and I'll say it again -- if the hair on the back of your neck doesn't stand on end, it's very likely that there's something wrong with you.

Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Shawn Bowers,
Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall, Charlie Barron,
Jeffrey Wright, Luke Steingruby and Antonio Rodriguez.
Photo credit: John Jamb
Deanna Jent's direction spreads the spoken text aptly among the cast who handle the many dialects required, with the help of dialect coach Richard Lewis, quite well for the most part, with standouts that include Barron, Glasgow, Hickey and Meyers. Jane Sullivan outfits the cast in authentic attire, and Kyra Bishop's effective scenic design of barbed wire, barricades and crates, along with "no man's land" in the middle, is evocatively lit by Michael Sullivan, highlighting the solos, and depicting stars and the illumination of mortar fire against a backdrop. All of these creative elements, with a seamless integration of songs and dialogue, make for an affecting night of theater -- perfect for the Holiday season.

If you saw it last year, it's worth seeing again. If you haven't, it's not to be missed. Aural feast, I'm tellin' ya! It's playing until December 21st.

Christopher Hickey, Gary Glasgow, Tim Schall,
Jason Meyers, J. Samuel Davis, Luke Steingruby,
Shawn Bowers, Jeffrey Wright, Antonio Rodriguez
and Charlie Barron.
Photo credit: John Lamb
ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

By Peter Rothstein
Musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach 
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through December 21 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 5pm

Cast:
Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis*, Gary Glasgow*, Christopher Hickey*, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall*, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright.
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Musical direction by Joe Schoen; scenic design by Kyra Bishop; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; dialect coach, Richard Lewis; props manager, Meg Brinkley; stage manager, Jessica Haley.

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