MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Christmas Schooner 2015

A New Musical
Book by John Reeger
Music & Lyrics by Julie Shannon
Musical Orchestrations by Larry Blank
Directed by L.Walter Stearns
Musical Direction by Eugene Dizon

Schooner’s heart fills the  holidays with joy!

Now in it fifth year at the Mercury Theater, The Christmas Schooner still packs much good will and holiday cheer at it tells the story of how immigrants braved the elements to bring holiday joy to others. The Christmas Schooner is an annual treat!


Julie Shannon’s folksy score sounds terrific with more instruments including a cell0, percussion, reeds, harp, and keyboards. Her vocals, especially the choral harmonies, sounded with more depth.  Her anthems “We All Have Songs”  and “What is It About The Water?” haunt us and set the mood nicely.  Jacqueline and Richard Penrod’s scenery, which changes into the Molly Doone, adds much to the production.

The Christmas Schooner is based on the true  lives of sailors who braved the icy waters of Lake Michigan to bring Tannenbaums to German immigrants living in the 1880’s  Chicago. As I said in 2002 and I still believe today, “The Christmas Schooner transforms that historical fact into a generational tale about the importance of family traditions and the challenges immigrants face in meeting a new country and culture. It personifies these issues in the microcosm of the Stossel family. Grandpa Stossel (James Wilson Sherman) still clings to his Germanic roots, while his forward-looking daughter-in-law, Alma (Brianna Borger), embraces the new world, refusing to allow German to be spoken in the house. Amid holiday festivities, a letter arrives from a cousin in Chicago who says how it’s nearly impossible to get a Christmas tree in the city and how a generation of German Americans will grow up without experiencing the tradition.”

schooner56Alma’s husband, Capt. Peter Stossel (Stef Tovar), wrestles with his love for his family and his desire to bring light into the lives of others, even if it means risking his own life.  Peter decides, against his wife’s wishes, to cut Christmas trees and bring them to Chicago running the risk of the treacherous Lake Michigan winds in late November.

Schooner demonstrates the spirit of togetherness, help, and sacrifice that fuels the hearty Midwestern ethic.  Shannon mixes her score with anthems, bouncy folksy tunes, ballads, and a polka to capture the human spirit.  There is a genuine sentimentality and feeling of goodness that runs through these folks, especially the strength that Stef Tovar captures as the every-man captain. He and Brianna Borger, as Alma, sing their roles in fine voices that exude love.

Jim Sherman, as the grandfather Gustav, added genuine humor to the work, while the crew exhibited the loyalty a crew shows to a top captain. Peyton Owen, as Karl, age 9, was precious.

The Christmas Schooner continues to be  my all-time favorite holiday show, and this production adds depth and richness to an already moving classic. Family values, sharing traditions, and perking the spirits by helping others are all worthy endeavors  especially during the holidays. What better way to celebrate these values then to be moved by this beautiful ode to the basic goodness of man? Shannon’s music will haunt you, and Reeger’s book demonstrates the selflessness of man.  We all need to hear “The Blessing of the Branch” as it urges us to take the little branch and pass it along. Be sure to take The Christmas Schooner on and pass it along to you family and friends.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: December 3, 2015

For more info checkout The Christmas Schooner page at

 Playing at Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 North Southport Avenue, Chicago. For tickets, call 773-325-1700 or visit Tickets are $25-69. Runs through December 28. Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 3:00 and 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm. Running time is two hours, fifteen minutes with one intermission.