A new Christmas Musical called “Star of Wonder” opens this week at the West Valley Performing Arts Center and is destined to become a holiday tradition. After extensive workshops this summer with Broadway Playwright Jill Santoriello (“Tale of Two Cities”) and Broadway Associate Director Jeff Whiting (“The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein”), “Star of Wonder” is now ready for a limited Christmas engagement.
Tickets are available at www.starofwonder.com and the show runs Dec. 4-11.
Comprised almost entirely of Christmas Carols, “Star of Wonder’’ tells the story of a World War I soldier named Jack who returns home to Oxford in 1919. It is the night of the town’s newly revived Christmas festival after having been canceled for five years because of the war.
Jack’s family always sang at the festival and as a child, Jack always participated. But this year, with the war weighing heavily on his mind, he is reluctant to take part and instead chooses to watch the rest of his family perform. As the show proceeds, we hear the carols of “Good King Wenceslas,” “Jeanette Isabella,” “The Wisemen,” and the “Shepherds.”
Each carol is a story, and each story brings our soldier closer to sharing his own. Finally, in the end, Jack reveals that he was at the remarkable Christmas Eve Truce of WWI. In recounting his tale to his family, and then to the town, Jack finally makes peace with his past and those he lost in the war.
“It’s ultimately a tale of redemption”, said James Conlee, the show’s author and composer. “Our soldier feels that he has outgrown the carols and stories of his childhood but what he’s really dealing with is a feeling of guilt for what he was asked to do in the war, and for the fact that he came home when so many of his friends didn’t. Witnessing his friends in the Christmas Eve Truce made the loss of them all the more difficult until a letter from his late father shows that the peace he felt at the truce can still be his. His father writes ‘If God’s love can stop a war, then it can stop the war inside you.’”
The first inklings of this show were born over a decade ago while Conlee was producing 12 Christmas albums for a living. “I grew up on Christmas music and studied piano and composition from the age of six. After studying music at BYU, I sang on the Broadway Tour of ‘Miss Saigon.’ When I returned to Utah from New York, I was a soloist with Kurt Bestor and The Utah Symphony.
“During Bestor’s Christmas Concerts, we had the opportunity to record one of the solos that he had given me. The next year, I was asked to produce a Christmas album with other local artists. Recording Christmas music then became my career for over a decade.” Conlee recounts that after recording over 100 carols, his theatrical mind started to see how some of them could be dramatized, especially the character-driven carols like “Good King Wenceslas” and “Jeanette Isabella.“
But it wasn’t until he started writing about the Christmas Eve Truce that he could finally see all the stories coming together.
“Our soldier was the glue. His own story of the truce would be very compelling, but his reluctance to share is what gave our musical its obstacle to overcome. It wasn’t just as simple as him having witnessed that famous truce between the Germans, French, and English, it was the contrast of that moment of peace and the other moments of pain that he saw in the war. We were able to find parallels with his struggle and the other characters in the festival show.
“Each character had to pay a price to worship at the cradle: The Wisemen’s faith, Jeanette Isabella’s courage, King Wenceslas’s selflessness, and the Innkeeper’s contrition. Each story teaches Jack something about his own Christmas journey and gives him the courage to tell his tale. It is in the recounting of the truce that Jack and the town of Oxford finally feel joy in knowing that so many of their loved ones left this life with a song in their hearts.”
Having been first workshopped through the BYU playwright’s program 10 years ago, and then shaped through the last two years of limited performances, “Star of Wonder” is finally ready for the spotlight it deserves.
The show is presented by Clarke Capital Partners with 10% of all ticket sales going to Ronald McDonald House Charities. It runs Dec. 4 -11 at the West Valley Performing Arts Center. More information about the production and tickets for this year’s performances can be found at www.starofwonder.com.