Bob Laughlin of the West End Assembly of God holds a paintbrush on an early November afternoon. The pastor of music and fine arts is at work on the sets for the church's latest original holiday musical, “No Man's Land.”
“I just love having my fingers all over this,” he says. “All year long we are working on the show, but separately, in pieces. When we finally put all the pieces together, I'm always shocked and humbled.”
West End's annual Glorious Christmas Nights is a stirring, large-scale holiday production that normally draws 23,000-plus audience members over its run. Laughlin has been here with the same creative team for 27 years, watching the performance grow from a small seasonal offering to a 750- to 800-person franchise that's become a Richmond holiday tradition.
“No Man's Land” might just be West End's most ambitious production yet. The show is set in the French trenches of World War I, and explores the miracle of the 1914 Christmas truce when warring troops stopped fighting long enough to celebrate the holidays together. “It is more serious this year,” Laughlin says. “It's still a family-friendly show but there's kind of a somber, serious tone. … we're thinking about our own young men now on the field in Afghanistan. It's a reminder that we live in difficult times.” The music was written, as always, by talented area composer Ron Klipp, and incorporates English carols, German dances and contemporary balladry.
But longtime attendees of West End's Glorious Christmas Nights shouldn't worry, Laughlin says. The 90-minute show, while not as family-oriented as in recent years, still will include the live nativity and the Christmas story. “We have a bit of a template that we've developed that we can lay over the show every year,” he says.
Planners are already thinking about next year's gig. “We may have a show about the fourth king, or we may repeat a show that we did several years ago,” he says, “a Santa story called ‘Sincerely Yours.'” Whatever this church decides to do next, it will no doubt be glorious. And big. — Don Harrison
West End Assembly of God presents “No Man's Land,” Dec. 3-6 and 9-13 at the church, 401 N. Parham Road. Tickets $18. For information or tickets call 754-0738 or go to www.gloriouschristmasnights.com.