Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“The Christmas Schooner”

Highly Recommended***** It is 100 years since the “Christmas Tree Ship” sank, bring Christmas trees to Chicago ( in fact the actual date was November 23rd, 1912) and over the years, the legend of the man and his crew that brought the trees from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Chicago in order for the German Immigrants to recapture the traditions they left back home,has continued to grow. How fitting that this musical story of the legend is being housed in The Mercury Theater, which also opened that same year( which was then the Blaine Nickelodeon). Over the years, this production, previously stage in other theaters has brought the spirit of the holidays to the recipients of the original rekindling of the spirit-Chicago, and now seems to have found a permanent home at The Mercury under the skillful direction of  L.Walter Stearns. This musical with a book by John Reeger ( one of our towns well known actors) and music and lyrics by Julie Shannon is a warm and loving story that shows the true spirit of the holiday and the meaning that one man brought to the holidays for a large population.                                                  

While the story may seem simple, it is put together in a magical way that allows the true spirit of the holiday season to come through to people of all backgrounds. These men risked their lives to bring cheer and spirit to strangers who waited at Clark Street Dock for her arrival every year. While they sold them to cover their expenses, they also gave freely to those in need. After all, this was “The Christmas season”. When Stearns brought the play back to Chicago, he did so with a full orchestra led by Musical Director/Conductor Eugene Dizon and superior choreography by Brenda Didier, who makes a smaller stage seem to be larger than life with her marvelous techniques. The set, one of multi purpose( Jaqueline and Richard Penrod) plays as the dock, their home and of course, the ship itself, with trap doors, sails, rigging’s and during the fateful scene where the boat enters a storm, you can almost feel the wind ripping through the sails. Bravo! The costumes(Carol J. Blanchard), lighting ( Jason Epperson) and sound ( Mike Ross) all add to the beauty of the production, but what makes this truly a work of art is the cast assembled to bring this tale to life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Many of the players have been aboard the Schooner in previous incarnations and of course some newbies have been added to the cast. Captain Peter Stassel ( strongly played by Karl Hamilton, back for his 6th year), his wife,Alma ( the incredible Cory Goodrich who has a powerful voice as well as being a strong actress returns for her second year) and the incredible James Wilson Sherman ( who it seems was born to play the role of Gustav Stassel, Petere’s father, now in his 6th season) are the three main players, but the ensemble is just as strong with Peter and Alma’s son Karl being played by Benjamin Parkhill at age 9 and Mark Kosten at age 15. Peter’s crew is made up of Ronald Keaton,Travis Taylor and Thomas M. Shea  as well as Ryan Westwood and Eric Parker.Isabelle Roberts, Daniel Pass,Leah Morrow,Sage Harper,Kelly Anne Clark and Elizabeth Haley who is also returning not only here at The Mercury, but was in the Bailiwick cast back in 2005. This is a large cast, some handling many roles , but with a great blend of voices, making Ms Shannon’s’  wonderful music and words take full meaning. There is a great deal of emotion in this story that deal with not only love, but dealing with loss. No matter how many times, I see this, I know that I will have a tear or two dripping down my cheek- both of adness and happiness, so bring a tissue or two with you. You will need them!

“The Christmas Schooner” which should be considered as much a Chicago holiday season tradition as The Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol” will continue at The Mercury Theater, located at 3745 N. Southport, through December 30th with performances as follows:

Wednesdays 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.,Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m.

Tickets range from $29-$59 and can be purchased at the newly remodeled box office at The Mercury, by phone at 773-325-1700 or online at www.mercurytheaterchicago.com

They are now doing a full season of musicals with full subscription series, so you can enjoy the Mercury all year instead of just the holiday season and special events. Check the website for more info on that as well as parking and dining in the area.

To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on the Christmas Schooner.


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