I hate Christmas. I hate the commercialism, I hate the maudlin sentiments and I hate the “entertainment” that comes with the season. If there were, in fact, an actual War on Christmas, I’d be on the frontlines shouting “Happy holidays!” at old ladies while drinking from a plain red Starbucks cup.
But I love Mustard Seed Theatre’s production of Peter Rothstein’s All Is Calm. For three years running the company has staged this a capella musical about the spontaneous Christmas truces that sprang up on the frontlines of World War I, and every year I enjoy the show more than I did the last. Director Deanna Jent and musical director Joe Schoen together craft a powerful story about peace, love and empathy that shines like a beacon in these darkening days.
Eddie Birdlace (Brendan Ochs) is an eighteen-year-old Marine who has one last night in San Francisco before shipping off to Vietnam. It’s November 21, 1963 — the night before President Kennedy will be killed — and Eddie is eager to win the dogfight planned with his friends Boland (Luke Steingruby) and Bernstein (Kevin O’Brien) before they settle that little conflict in southeast Asia. The boys anticipate a quick victory and a hero’s welcome when they return — but first they have to humiliate some women.
It is a lesson we never remember. Young men are trained to kill, women are there for the taking and the world races ever onward to some uncertain destiny. And yet two people can find one another in that chaos, and come to understand each other, if only they care enough to look deeply into themselves.
Best MusicalThe Threepenny Opera, New Line Theatre
Jill Ritter LIndberg Macheath’s gang celebrate the boss’ wedding.
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera has everything you could want from a musical: a jazzy score, a diverse cast of shady characters and a ruthless compunction for wallowing in vice, sin and corruption. New Line Theatre mounted a savage production of the show that rubbed our faces in society’s filth and failings, and made us enjoy it despite the horrors on display. Threepenny is a sharp, cynical work that subverts your expectations at every turn, and the New Line cast embraced this ethos thoroughly. Scenic designer Rob Lippert built a grimy nocturne for them to play in, and the cast gleefully cheated and backstabbed their way through it. Familiar tunes such as “Army Song” and “Jealousy Duet” sounded fresh and intoxicating — so fresh that Brecht’s mordant lyrics were shocking all over again. Consistently surprising, eminently rewarding and endlessly fascinating, New Line’s Threepenny Opera was the show that set a new standard for St. Louis musical theater. http://www.newlinetheatre.com.
For the next three weeks you have a choice in how you stay informed about current events: You can either suffer through another local newscast as the tone whiplashes between banal levity and grim images of oppression, crime and human misery — or you can soak up the horrible truth at New Line Theatre’s near-perfect production of The Threepenny Opera.
Washington University South Campus Theatre
6501 Clayton Road
Clayton, MO 63105
8:00 p.m. every Thu., Fri., Sat. until June 20
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera opens with a jaunty song about an unrepentant murderer and ends with the bad guys winning. Why? Because if you’re going to satirize both opera and a corrupt society, you go all the way. Macheath is our charming killer, and he’s currently toying with Polly Peachum’s tender affections. Mr. Peachum, the king of the beggars, isn’t happy with his daughter’s taste in men and plans to set up Macheath for arrest. Mr. Peachum doesn’t know, however, that the chief of police is Macheath’s bosom friend. Crooked cops, murderers getting away with murder and backstabbers getting stabbed — it’s all very familiar to modern audiences. Not bad for a musical written in 1928. New Line Theatre closes out its season with what is arguably (there is no argument) the best musical of all time.
The Threepenny Opera is performed at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (May 28 through June 20) at the Washington University South Campus Theatre (6501 Clayton Road; 314-534-1111 or http://www.newlinetheatre.com). Tickets are $15 to $25.