For years, my dad had a standing order for the biggest Christmas tree on the lot. He loved to splurge on this holiday symbol. The guys would bring dad’s tree on a flatbed and mount it in the grand room. On Christmas, everyone would take turns commenting ‘this is the best tree yet.‘ Eventually and with much chagrin, dad succumb to the modern conveniences of a pre-lit tree out of a box. My nephews mount it on Thanksgiving and dad spends Friday decorating it. Natural or artificial doesn’t really matter to me. The tree still is my dad’s loving gift to his family every year.
The Mercury Theater presents THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER. In 19th century, the United States is still a fairly-new country. Its citizens, from around the world, are still trying to assimilate into defining American culture. When his cousin writes of her longing for the ‘O Tannenbaum‘ of their childhood, a captain decides to bring her a German-style Christmas present. He plans to travel from Upper Michigan to Chicago to deliver a tree. His wife tries to talk him out of the dangerous winter voyage but he’s committed. He believes Chicago needs a little Christmas...tree. THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER is a sentimental musical journey to Chicago’s past.
Playwright John Reeger found an interesting piece of holiday history. Reeger tells the story of the origin of the American Christmas tree. German immigrants introduced the tree concept to the U.S.. Sea captains would sail across treacherous Lake Michigan waters to deliver them. Reeger explores the genesis of the tradition from the Stossel family’s perspective. The Stossels are a three generation German and shipping family. Daniel Coonley (9 years old) and Mark Kosten (15 years old) both play Karl Stossel. Coonley and Kosten add a youthful animation to the sea tale. Their playful presence interjects comedy to the tenderhearted drama. Jim Sherman (grandpa) is the anchor of wisdom. Sherman and Cory Goodrich (Alma) have a powerful duet in “When I look at you.” Goodrich displays an impressive range of emotion and singing. The chemistry between her and Karl Hamilton (Peter) is passionately palpable. Their relationship grounded in sailing’s uncertainty is illustrated with gift-of-the-magi charm.
Under the direction of L. Walter Stearns, the entire cast put their heart and soul into creating a holiday memory. The show glides along with Christmas caroler pleasantry sprinkled with unforgettable scenes of movement. Stearns stages a tumultuous storm with wonderful dramatic urgency. Choreographer Brenda Didier infuses some dance surprises into the old-world feel. Didier livens up the harbor scene with some energetic and festive movement. Especially on a fairly small stage area, the dancing is a high-spirited spectacle.
I love this time of year. Not only are the lights spectacular on the Mag Mile but also State Street has musical holiday installations. Chicago knows how to celebrate Christmas! Chicago theatre is also reveling December with plenty of holiday focused shows. The House Theatre and The Joffrey offer “The Nutcracker.” American Theatre Company and American Blues Theater are mounting “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Northlight is wishing everyone “Season’s Greetings.” And Hell in a Handbag Productions is producing the cult-classic “Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer.” There is plenty of holiday theatre cheer to get you in the Christmas spirit. THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER sails in as a nice alternative to the old familiar. This was my first time seeing THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER. I’ll be back next year with my dad.
Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes includes an intermission.
At Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport
Book by John Reeger
Music and lyrics by Julie Shannon
Musical direction by Eugene Dizon
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3pm an 7:30pm
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru December 31st
Buy Tickets at www.mercurytheaterchicago.com