The Christmas Schooner: A Musical 2013

Book by John Reegermercury theater

Music & lyrics by Julie Shannon

Directed by L. Walter Stearns

Musical Director Eugene Dizon

Choreographer Brenda Didier

At the Mercury Theater, Chicago

Several new cast members and deeper felt leads fuel this annual holiday treat

The Christmas Schooner, now in its 3rd season at the Mercury Theater, under the artistic direction of L. Walter Stearns and Eugene Dizon still sails into our hearts!. This wonderful show is musically rich with memorable songs, rich harmonies and a truthful  story of the brave sailors who sailed in the late 19th Century from Upper Michigan to Chicago from 1882 until 1912.

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John Reeger and Julie Shannon have created a tuneful musical filled with heart, truth, and wholesomeness. Led by Karl Hamilton as Captain Stossel and Cory Goodrich as Alma Stossel, The Christmas Schooner is a family friendly sure to move you directly into your spirit. This is a “Must See” holiday show for everyone. Goodrich Hamilton and new Karl (age 15) Christian Libonati spark a refreshingly spirited tale of the Stossel family.

Based on the true story of the ‘Rouse Simmons,’ a Great Lakes Schooner that was dubbed as “The Christmas Schooner. ” Its captain risked the treacherous November winds on Lake Michigan to bring Christmas trees ( Tannenbaums) to German immigrants from Upper Michigan to Chicago in the 1880′s.

Schooner, the musical features a rich assortment of songs from haunting anthems such as “We All Have Songs” and “What is It About the Water” to the emotionally enchanting “The Blessing of the Branch” to a rousing polka to sea chanties “The Mummers Are Here” and ” Hardwater Sailors.”  Filled with terrific voice sung in fine harmonies, Stearn’s Schooner unfolds as a heartwarming tribute to the immigrant spirit of compassion, industriousness, and adventure that shaped the building of America.

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Visionary schooner captain Peter Stossel ( strongly sung by Karl Hamilton), deeply affected by a letter from a relative in Chicago lamenting the lack of Tannenbaums decides to risk the foul November Lake Michigan weather to take a boat load of Christmas Trees to Chicago. He is motivated by profit and tradition but once he experiences the joy he spreads, he is moved to make the voyage an annual event.

His wife Alma (the golden voiced Cory Goodrich) worries about  the dangerous trips. His son Karl at age 9 admires his father and at age 15 joins him on the annual trek. Gustav Stossel ( James Wilson Sherman), the captain’s father both supports his son and exemplifies the German immigrant spirit. Both young Karl’s ( the charming Brennan Dougherty, aged 9 and teenage Karl (Christian Libonati) depicted the vibrant spirited youth of their time.

The Christmas Schooner is wonder holiday family show filled with empathetic characters, a warm spirit, and a nice lesson of giving that is wrapped up in a ‘feel-good’ musical honoring the human spirit.  This sweet show sings marvelously, contains humor and lovable characters. The enhanced music soars to the beautiful singing that rings to the rafters. (The new sound system at the Mercury Theater adds depth to the music.)

Schooner demonstrates the spirit of togetherness, help and sacrifice that fuels the hearty Midwestern ethic then and today. The Mercury Theater’s production is a polished, tightly presented version of the Chicago traditional Holiday show. it works so well in the intimate jewel-box of a theatre on Southport Avenue. Make this show an annual treat for the whole family. The 2013 production is tighter and with more heart than usual demonstrating how much respect the cast has in the material. If you only go to one holiday show, make it The Christmas Schooner.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: December 3, 2013

For more info check The Christmas Schooner page at

At the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700,, tickets $20 – $55, Wednesdays at  7;30 pm, Thursdays at 2 & 7:30 pm,  Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through December 30, 2012

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