Theatre review: 'All is Calm' offers a moment of peace in a time of war

For the News-DemocratNovember 13, 2013 

Perfect pitch and exceptional harmonies create a stunning theatrical experience in Mustard Seed Theatre's a cappella musical, "All Is Calm: Truce of 1914," which illuminates a remarkable Christmas truce during World War I.

Ripped from the pages of history, this true story is presented as a stylized mix of songs, letters home and documented facts written by Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach.

The music is familiar, from traditional Christmas carols, folk tunes, Celtic ballads and such classics as "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and "Pack Up Your Troubles." To hear these silky-smooth, crystal-clear renditions is a sensory delight, moving some audience members to tears.

The Fontbonne University black box theater enhances this personal account that even war couldn't destroy the Christmas spirit.

Director Deanna Jent has kept the action fluid, focusing the attention on these noble lads new to the battlefield and older officers who have seen it all.

Charlie Barron, Shawn Bowers, J. Samuel Davis, Gary Glasgow, Christopher Hickey, Jason Meyers, Antonio Rodriguez, Tim Schall, Luke Steingruby and Jeffrey Wright make up this seamless, tight ensemble, portraying German and British soldiers who sang songs to each other across the lines that Christmas Eve.

Dialect coach Richard Lewis taught the cast an array of United Kingdom accents, such as Scottish brogues and British cockney, and German, too, all which ring true. The men are able to make their characters distinctive, but also blend their angelic voices together as a strong unit. Music director Joe Schoen made sure the tones and moods are distinguished.

Scenic designer Kyra Bishop's simple set of barbed wire, makeshift fences, boxes, straw and barricades is moved for effect as the soldiers introduce themselves and tell stories. The lighting by Michael Sullivan is impeccable -- a starry night sky, flashes of gunfire on the horizon, and the quiet on the western front.

At dawn's early light on Christmas Day, some unarmed German soldiers came out of the trenches and called out "Merry Christmas" to the nearby Allied troops. It wasn't a trick. The Brits climbed out of their trenches, too, and shook hands with "the enemy." They exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings, and showed photos of their loved ones. A few even played soccer.

It was the first and only time such a "truce" took place, an example of chivalry that has become this genuine, emotional piece, illustrating that humanity can win in the most horrific times. The show is only an hour long, but its effect will linger far after viewing.

Humble in origin, inspiring in execution, and breath-taking in delivery, "All Is Calm" is a musical not to be missed.

At a glance

When: Performances through Nov. 24

Where: Mustard Seed Theatre, Fontbonne University, 6800 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, Mo.

For tickets and information: 314-719-8060 or www.mustardseedtheatre.org

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