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The Western Star: a Retrospective
Imagine….it’s a dark, cold January night—the Eve of Epiphany. Inside the church, still redolent with the sights and smells of Christmas, people gather around a bed of flickering candlelight to hear a story—a familiar story, but newly and differently told. Such was the scene at St. James, Essex Junction, on January 5th, as Jack DesBois, a singer, actor and above all, a storyteller from St. Stephen’s in Middlebury, mesmerized an audience of more than 40 people with The Western Star, his retelling of the story of the magi and their journey to find the Christ Child.
No mere narrative of the legend, DesBois uses his unique gifts of poetry and music to make the ancient tale come to life in iambic pentameter reminiscent of Shakespeare, complete with renaissance-inflected music. Through his verse and song, we feel Balthazar’s nervous concern for his kingdom as the great dark of the year settles in. We feel his wonder at the star that fills the black skies, and his hesitant acceptance of the journey he must make through the snow and the cold of winter’s bleakest nights. We are amused as he stumbles on merry Melchior, who has somehow lost his way and all he possesses in his pilgrimage, and we sigh with relief as the two of them come upon the warmth and shelter of Caspar’s cottage, where their lost belongings somehow mysteriously appear. We travel with the three, first to Herod’s glittery and menacing palace, and then to Bethlehem and the warm comfort of the stable and Mary’s enchanting lullaby.
The story of the Magi is an old one, but DesBois’ unique and skillful approach makes it come alive in new ways. His voice is strong and true, his interaction with his audience brings those present skillfully into his tale, and his lovely music and singing voice touches chords at the deepest level. He tells, quite simply, a story “as old as the darkening winter and rejuvenating spring and the fears and hopes of the people on the longest nights of the year.”
Peggy Bonesteel, St. James Episcopal Church, 2020
St James Episcopal Church, Essex Jct, Vermont