A Memorial Celebration
Music & Lyrics by Julie Shannon
Conceived & Complied by
John Reeger, Bill Geller & Rives Collins
Directed by Rives Collins
Musical Direction by Shawn Stengel
At the Mercury Theater, Chicago
December 10, 2012
Stunning musical tribute to a major talented composer and wonderful person – Julie Shannon
Julie Shannon died on September 12, 2012. She was the beloved wife of Bill Geller and the collaborator with John Reeger on four musicals: Stones, The Christmas Schooner, Let the Eagle Fly: The Story of Cesar Chavez and The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes. Appropriately utilizing the set of The Christmas Schooner (the biggest hit musical by Reeger & Shannon), the memorial celebration to Julie Shannon was an amazing display of the immense talent Julie Shannon possessed. Shannon is probably the finest relatively unknown composer and lyricist you could find. I was stunned at the versatility, the number of soaring anthems, the terrific lyrics that sit upon the music so effectively. Seldom will you find a more talented composer and lyricist in one person that Julie Shannon!
John Reeger, Shannon’s talented book writer, together with Bill Geller (Julie’s husband) and professor (and storyteller) Rivas Collins have produced a slick, well conceived musical celebration of the impressive Julie Shannon songbook. An amazing list of performers donated their time to honor the first lady of Chicago musicals. From Felicia P. Fields (a Reeger-Shannon discovery) to Gustavo Mellado who flew in from California to sing tunes made famous in Let the Eagle Fly to Shannon’s friend and mentor Sheldon Harnick – the collection of major talents sung Shannon’s tunes marvelously. To me, there was no other place to be Monday December 10, 2012 than listening to the prolific Julie Shannon’s songs.
Stones was well represented by Felicia P. Fields, Alexis J Rogers, James Earl Jones II as they nailed all the soul in the gospel and bluesy numbers form Stones. Who said a white girl can’t have soul? We heard some trunk songs like the unique “The Christmas Tree” sung by Nancy Voigts proving that Shannon can write sophisticated and funny tunes. Sam Samuelson got the house going with the pop-rockish “It’s You I Love.”
The Les Miz-styled Let the Eagle Fly: The Story of Cesar Chavez was represented of Shannon’s skills as a composer/lyricist with a social conscious. Her “Why Did I Say ”Yes’.” “My Name is Cesar Chevez,” “Papa, What Do They Know?” and the powerful anthem “Let the Eagle Fly” sung by Gustavo Mellado with help from Joe Foronda and others exemplify Shannon’s ability to write moving ballads and anthems about social justice.
Act one ends with one of the great songs I’ve heard in years: “One Breath” from Stones. It is a wonderful, moving, toe-tapping gospel song with a powerful message. It is surly one of Shannon’s finest tunes!
Act two opens with Julie Shannon’s “Chicago–It’s the People” a vaudevillian, witty ode to Julie’s love for Chicago. Paula Scrofano, Ron Keaton and Rivas Collins delight as they smoothly nail the sweet tune. Next, Joe Foronda adeptly sings “The Man with the Kelly Green Hair” a sophisticated, yet poignantly funny songs with a strong message. More wit and poignancy is effectively contained in the “I Waited” song sung with rich emotions by Cory Goodrich and Liz Haley. The wide variety of Jule Shannon songs keeps amazing us with the funny and clever blues song: “Charley’s Blues from Stones nailed by Percy Littleton and James Earl Jones II. Alexis P. Rogers with help from others sings the hilarious blues tune “I’ve Double-Locked the Door.”
The last Reeger-Shannon musical, The Man who Murdered Sherlock Holmes is featured in the stirring “This Moment” sung by Liz Haley and Karl Hamilton. This new show “I’ll Be Fine” is a terrific smart number that finds Doyle confronting the living Sherlock Holmes sung deliciously by Nick Sandy and Karl Hamilton with funny moments from Ron Keaton. If ever there was a finer backer’s audition number than this one, I don’t know what would be? Sherlock exemplifies the growth as artists and storytellers by John Reeger and Julie Shannon.
Gustavo Mellado sings the movingly emotional “My Father” from L et the Eagle Fly. We then heard Sheldon Harnick tell of how he met Julie Shannon and how he realized her tremendous talent. he then sang with help from The Christmas Schooner cast, Julie’s favorite Harnick tune for his show Dragons – “Take Care of One Another” – message that Julie lived by.
We then got a real treat as we heard Julie Shannon sing “Who’s to Say” from Sherlock. The lady could sing as well as compose! Most appropriately, the memorial celebration ends with two of Shannon’s songs that pass the Jerry Herman test: they are memorable ‘take-home’ songs that you can’t get out of your head because they engulf you. Yes, “We All Have Songs” and “Blessings of the Branch” leave us feeling good as Julie Shannon surly left her mark on the world with her art, her talent and her sense of social justice. We ‘ll miss the lady.
It would be a transitivity if these four shows are not moved to the next level so that audiences can experience the wonderful art the John Reeger and Julie Shannon have created.
The Christmas Schooner as a film
Yes, The Christmas Schooner with 125 worldwide productions and an annual production at the Mercury Theater is in good hands – yet – it begs to be a film. A schooner on Lake Michigan brings the joy of Christmas Trees to Chicago in the 1880’s could be a cinematography delight. Disney films or Hallmark should consider doing a film version of The Christmas Schooner. Actually, Gigi Pritzker , the lead producer of Million Dollar Quartet and a film maker, has the resources to make The Christmas Schooner a major film. Let’s hope she comes to the Mercury Theatre to experience the marvels of the Reeger-Shannon musical. Let’s get this Chicago holiday icon musical on film.
Stones remounted at Court Theatre
If Charles Newell heard “One Breath” from Stones he would want to mount the musical, especially with Ron OJ Parsons directing and Doug Peck as music director. I’m guessing Felicia P. Fields would love to once again do the show that launched her career? Parsons told me, at the memorial, that he’d love to direct Stones at Court Theatre. Please Charles Newell, do this show!
Let the Eagle Fly: The Story of Cesar Chavez at the Goodman Theatre
After doing a major stage reading in 2004 and several productions in California and Texas, the Goodman Theatre needs to mount a major production of Let the Eagle Fly: The Story of Cesar Chavez directed by Richardo Gutierrez (who directed the 2004 production at the Goodman). Maybe, Robert Falls and Roche Schulfer could get impresario Stuart Oken to help raise the cash need for a major production? The timing is now for a show about a great American who championed the rights of immigrant farm workers is now. Maybe a major company would step forward? This musical needs the talents and resources of the Goodman Theatre. They need to step up.
The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes would be wonderful at Northlight Theatre
With Nick Sandys as Sherlock Holmes, BJ Jones should direct this new work that begs for a sophisticated production. If BJ heard “I’ll Be Fine,” he’d realize that it could be a hit for Northlight Theatre. Consider that a challenge.
With all the bland crass commercial musicals coming through Chicago, I’m flabbergasted that the Reeger-Shannon shows,with the exception of The Christmas Schooner, have not found productions here? If a producer or artistic director would LISTEN and rediscover the terrific books by John Reeger and the fabulous scores by Julie Shannon – they’d be chopping at the bit to mount these shows. Let’s get these shows to the next level.
Please submit your comments below especially if you agree that the Reeger-Shannon shows should be produced locally.