Wednesday January 17th 2018

“The Christmas Schooner”

One can certainly tell when it is the Holiday period in Chicago. Goodman brings out their “A Christmas Carol”, American Blues their “It’s A Wonderful Life” and of course The Mercury brings out its perennial “The Christmas Schooner”, which is a warm and fuzzy look at some actual history involving the city of Chicago. Over the years, we have seen several cast changes. Some because of actors growing up, others who recently had a baby, some who went on to other roles and could not change their schedules and of course, those who have left for that greater stage in the sky.

What has been amazing about this show , is that no matter who takes the ship out of port to bring those precious Christmas Trees to Chicago, the ship arrives, the tradition grows and I shed my annual tears of happiness. The story is based on a German story and tradition, and was written by  John Reeger (book) with the music and lyrics by Julie Shannon. I have been attending on the opening night for many years so that I can thank Reeger in person ( this year I missed the opener due to a conflict), so John, let me say “Thanks for the beautifully written story”! The stage of the Mercury Theater Chicago is back to the wooden multi use set (Jaqueline and Richard Penrod) that allows the set to be a dock, a ship and a home . Directed by L. Walter Stearns once agin and choreographed by Brenda Didier, most of the show remains intact, only the cast members have changed allowing us to see that the power of the story is greater than all else.

The overall picture drawn by Stearns, Didier and their cast is well designed to allow some of the ensemble members to change characters with a simple costume or wig change ( Carol J. Blanchard on costumes and Kevin Barthel/wigs) and the lighting (Dustin Derry) and sound (Mike Ross) worked wonders. The musicians, led by their conductor Eugene Dizon at the Piano are brilliant. In fact during intermission, I explained to another audience member that they were backstage and so only Dizon could be seen ( thanks to the electronic era we live in) so each performer and musician was dependent on Mr. Dizon. Matt Beck (woodwinds), Jennifer Ruggerrieri (harp), David Sands (cello) and Lindsay Williams (percussion). Great work!

The story is about the Stossel family, led by the elder Gustav (Don Forston, who came on board last year and is terrific as the old-world German seaman), his son Peter (the always reliable Stef Tovar), daughter-in-law, Alma (deftly handled by the incredible Brianna Borger, who in the second act will bring a tear to your eye, for sure) and their son, Karl. Karl is played by two different actors. In the early days of the story, at age 9 , a vibrant Leo Gonzalez and then later at age 15, Christian Libonati (who is an ensemble member in the earlier scenes). This is the Stossel family. There is another relative as well. She is Cousin Martha in Chicago ( a solid performance by Nicole Arnold) who writes the letter that causes Peter to decide to go against his better judgement to chop down the trees and bring them down Lake Michian to Chicago. It is because of Martha that the story gets written.

This is a strong ensemble. Some truly old favorites in Chicago theater and some who are just working their way into the scene (waiting for that break to stardom, so to speak). This play is the perfect place to be. Well written, lots of energy and a story that keeps the audience involved. The crew of the “schooner” is made up of Ryan Stajmiger, Ronals Keaton, Harter Clingman, Jared Rein and Dan Gold (there are a few scenes where Libonati joins them as a young man-probably for his dancing prowess), The women in the ensemble are: Holly Stauder and Kelly Anne Clark and the children: Stella Hoyt (the face of an angle-when she says “The Blessing of The Branch” you will need a tissue, for sure), Ben Miller and Elise Wolf. This small cast, manages to fill the theater with the spirit of the story from start to finish.

If this show is not one you have gone with your family to take in, might I suggest changing your plans to do so. It is a family experience for sure and could become your holiday tradition. You could do a lot worse! Here is the schedule of performances remaining :

Sat, Dec 9: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Sun, Dec 10: 3:00pm
Wed, Dec 13: 8:00pm
Thu, Dec 14: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Fri, Dec 15: 8:00pm
Sat, Dec 16: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Sun, Dec 17: 3:00pm
Tue, Dec 19: 8:00pm
Wed, Dec 20: 8:00pm
Thu, Dec 21: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Fri, Dec 22: 8:00pm
Sat, Dec 23: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Sun, Dec 24: 1:00pm
Wed, Dec 27: 8:00pm
Thu, Dec 28: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Fri, Dec 29: 8:00pm
Sat, Dec 30: 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Sun, Dec 31: 3:00pm

 

Show Type: Musical

Box Office: 773-325-1700

Running Time: 2hrs, 15mins; one intermission

www.mercurytheaterchicago.com

The Mercury Theater is located at 3745 N. Southport Avenue

Valet parking is available and plenty of dining is available in the immediate area along with a wonderful farm to table space adjacent- Grass Roots

 

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com. Go to Review Round-Up and click at

“The Christmas Schooner”

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