Unusual Event Sparks Hope And Tears As Mustard Seed Theatre Presents “All Is Calm”

The gentlemen of "All Is Calm" at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The gentlemen of “All Is Calm” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

It happened early in the Great War- 1914- at Christmastime and the dramatization of this amazing event is simply spectacular. The British troops started singing Christmas carols to each other across the trenches on Christmas Eve and soon they heard the German soldiers across no man’s land also taking to song. Early on Christmas day the German soldiers ventured out and across the wasteland  with hands outstretched to wish the enemy a Merry Christmas. The result was a one day truce that involved singing, camaraderie and even an impromptu soccer game.

Now Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical, “All Is Calm,” which is playwright Peter Rothstein’s take on this tender moment when enemies celebrated life instead of death, reaching a hand out to greet a fellow man instead of using that hand to pull a trigger that would kill him and drowning out the quiet with song instead of gunfire. Ten strong male voices bring a variety of music from the period to life blending voices in harmony interspersed with real life stories and commentary to show the horrors of war along with the incredible story of how that war ended for just one day to celebrate a common denominator for them all- remembering the true meaning of Christmas.

Shawn Bowers featured in Mustard Seed's "All Is Calm." Photo: John Lamb

Shawn Bowers featured in Mustard Seed’s “All Is Calm.” Photo: John Lamb

It’s amazing how director Deanna Jent found ten beautifully compatible voices to bring songs like “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary,” “Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming” and traditional holiday songs to joyous life with only the occasional pitch pipe to keep them on mark. It’s almost like the Whiffenpoofs went to war and then a few Germans joined the Yale elite. The ten men come marching into the trench-like stage area from both wings to the Scottish folk song, “Will Ye Go To Flanders?” and then various men take on the persona of German and French soldiers throughout the short one-hour show. With mostly the music to tell their stories, it’s a moving piece that is particularly poignant on this Veteran’s Day holiday.

As a vet, I admit to shedding a tear or two- first when the soldiers all gathered around the German’s make-shift Christmas tree to sing “Silent Night” and again during the heartfelt rendition (in French) of “O Holy Night” delivered with the lilting voice of Antonio Rodriguez. The entire male cast is outstanding. Besides the powerful performance of Mr. Rodriguez, Charlie Barron and Christopher Hickey are brilliant as are Tim Schall, J Samuel Davis and Jeffrey Wright. Shawn Bowers, Gary Glasgow, Jason Meyers and Luke Steingruby also deliver powerful performances in a variety of roles.

The British soldiers in a light moment from "All Is Calm" at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The British soldiers in a light moment from “All Is Calm” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Director Deanna Jent does a masterful job of moving the men around the brilliant barbed wire and convincing “no man’s land” set created by Kyra Bishop. Moving in and out of British and German persona and creating magnificent stage pictures along the way, this is a touching tribute to that unique event. Michael Sullivan’s lights also enhance the proceedings including the unique cyclorama across the back as does the musical direction by Joe Schoen of the Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach musical arrangements. Also delightful are the soldier’s realistic uniforms designed by Jane Sullivan. A big heap of praise to dialect coach Richard Lewis who had the gentlemen spot on with their accents throughout as they switched from British to German to Scottish to French and back again with powerful conviction.

This is as wonderful as theatre gets. A moving tribute to military personnel everywhere, “All Is Calm” shows a spirit of both the men in uniform as well as the men in this cast. How fulfilling it must be to know you’re creating a show that has the power to bring hope, laughter, song and tears to an audience who, on opening night (and I’m sure for the whole run), gave them a well-earned standing ovation. I remember a film from many years ago called “Midnight Clear” that told basically the same story but set in the Second World War. Both that film and this musical showed what “peace on earth” music can bring but also the harsh reality we must return to after this brief and hopeful moment in time.

“All Is Calm” is inspiring and one you don’t want to miss. As I said, it’s only an hour or so long but you’ll probably get more from this short moment in the theatre than you’ve had in some time. It plays through November 24th and you can get tickets or more information by contacting Mustard Seed Theatre at 314-719-8060 or at mustardseedtheatre.com.

2 Responses to “Unusual Event Sparks Hope And Tears As Mustard Seed Theatre Presents “All Is Calm””

  1. Barbara MacRobie Says:

    Wonderful review of a brilliant show. I wanted to let you know that the Missouri Arts Council (of which I am the public information coordinator) has excerpted this review in a feature article we’ve created for our website: “Snapshots of the Missouri Arts Blogosphere.” Thank you for your passion for St. Louis theatre arts!

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