Highly Recommended**** Traditions! Traditions! Without our traditions, in particular, those in our local “theater Scene”, our holiday season would be bland and just like other times of the year. Yes, there are those who wish the holiday plays would never come again ( they are the Grinches of teh world) and those who say, how can one see “A Christmas carol” every year for over 20 years? Well, the truth of the matter is, one can enjoy the same play over and over, even more so than watching the traditional holiday movie. The movie never changes, while the play, being “live” can have cast changes, direction changes, different theaters and so what seems to be the same piece as last year ( and years before) with the slightest change can seem new and different. That is the beauty of “live theater”!
One of my favorite holiday stories is that of “The Christmas Schooner”, the musical that takes on its life each year at The Mercury Theater ( after years of moving about, it seems to now have the perfect home) and each year allows more people to learn of the wonder of the first Christmas Tree Ship that brought tradition and Christmas to Chicago ( late 1800’s/early 1900’s), from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is a warm and moving story with a book by John Reeger ( one of Chicago’s finest actors) and music and lyrics by Julie Shannon. This is a Chicago story, written by Chicagoans and based on a wonderful tradition that will bring a tear to your eye, even after seeing it year after year.
Directed by L.Walter Stearns with musical direction by Eugene Dizon, the intimate space of the Mercury ( which by the way, was then The Blaine Nickelodeon, opened the year that the original ship went under along with its over 5,000 trees, we are treated to the magic of a history lesson, taught through music and dance ( once again handled to perfection by Brenda Didier, who creates her magic in a small space, making it seem larger than life). The costumes (carol J. Blanchard) and the lighting (Jason Epperson) along with the sound (Mike Ross) along with the masterful set (Jaqueline and Richard Penrod) make this production as visual a sit is heartwarming.
Many of the cast members are returning for their second or third run ( or even more) at being a part of this ensemble.James Wilson Sherman, as Grandpa Gustav( a part that appears to have been created for him), The incredible Karl Hamilton as his son , the Captain of the ship, Peter, Cory Goodrich as Alma, who gets better each year. Young Karl ( at age 9) is handled to perfection by newcomer Brennan Doughterty and as he ages , is played by another newcomer,Christian Libonati who also does a superior job.
The rest of the 25 member cast are fine singers and dancers as well as “story tellers” as this is a definate story that should be told and with this superior cast, IS told in a manner that will make you think, while at the same time bring a little spirit to your heart and a tear to your eye. Kelly Anne Clark, Jaclyn Dougherty, Elizabeth Haley, Sage Harper, Leah Morrow, Michael Pacas, Erik Parker, Thomas M. Shea, Travis Taylor and Sean Thomas- many of these people portray more than one character and all of them are keys to a production that should be seen by all Chicagoans- it is a history lesson that also teaches us about good will toward man and how reaching out to those who have less is even more important at this time of year.
The music in this show is remarkable and the one stands out more than the others is “The Blessing Of The Branch” , a lovely little tune where each person holds the fir branch and then passes it on to another, and when the branch is passed through the audience at the end of the show, kleenex starts coming out of purses and pockets as it should ( make sure you bring at least two tissues for this scene alone).
If you have never witnessed “The Christmas Schooner”, perhaps now is the time for you to make the reservation to start your tradition- this is a show that you will want to see every year, or at least every other year- it is the true spirit of giving and love and caring that the holiday season is all about. You can start your tradition, but you only have until December 29th ( please, make them extend this through the holidays) with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
On December 23rd there will be a 7:30 p.m. show and on December 24th a 2 p.m. performance
The Mercury Theater is located at 3745 N. Southport and tickets which range from $20- $55 can be purchased at the box office, by calling 773-325-1700 or online at www.mercurytheaterchicago.com.
Street parking, metered and valet is available. There are many restaurants in the area and two are connected to the theater, Cullen’s bar and Grill and Deleece.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Christmas Schooner”.