Music & Lyrics by Julie Shannon
Book by John Reeger
Directed by L Walter Stearns
Music Direction by Eugene Dizon
Choreographer Brenda Didier
At the Mercury Theater, Chicago
The tradition lives on in a wonderful production of The Christmas Schooner
After 12 years at the old Bailiwick Repertory and a year in Munster, The Christmas Schooner is now docked at the Mercury Theater in Chicago. With a spruced-up orchestration by 3-time Tony Nominee, Larry Blank and a seven piece orchestra, Julie Shannon’s haunting folksy score never sounded better under Eugene Dizon’s musical direction. Hopefully, The Christmas Schooner has found a home. Director Walter Searns has cast nine Equity actors including several who have played in past productions resulting in a richly pleasing and vocally stimulating holiday show that begs to be seen. The Christmas Schooner continues to be among the favorite Chicago holiday shows.
Schooner is a beloved Chicago story penned by actor John Reeger (book) and music & lyrics bu Julie Shannon. 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 winter 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.
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 ( Jim Sherman), the captain’s father both supports his son and exemplifies the German immigrant spirit. Both young Karl’s (Daniel Coonley-aged 9 and teenage Karl-Mark Kosten) 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. Karl Hamilton and Cory Goodrich exemplify the strong immigrant family as they lead the cast through the adventures and heartaches of life on the water in the late 19th Century. 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. Yes, put The Christmas Schooner on your “must see” list for the holidays. If you’ve seen Schooner in the past, come again to see a musically enhanced yet still movingly emotional version that will enrich your holiday enjoyment. Make Schooner a family tradition.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 21, 2011
At the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700, www.mercurytheaterchicago.com, tickets $3- – $49.50, Wednesdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through December 31, 2011