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Theater Review: The Christmas Schooner

Photo 1When: Through Dec. 29
Where: Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport Ave.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $20-55 at 773-325-1700 or mercurytheatrechicago.com

Tweet-able Review:All Hail! The Mercury Theater’s The Christmas Schooner is here for another season on the water!! 

It’s hard to imagine as the weather of Chicago climbed into the lower 60’s on Wednesday night that in little less than 3 weeks, Christmas will be upon us – and so to, the cold temperatures that come with the holiday. The frigid numbers tend to convince tourists, passerby’s and theatre-goers of all ages to take-in Chicago’s famous Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. But if one wishes to truly appreciate the history of Chicago’s official Christmas tree, audiences should first rush to the confines of the Mercury Theater on Southport Ave first & grab tickets to The Christmas Schooner, to be transported out of the cold Winter winds and transformed in the warmth of the Season. 

 Photo 2Like the brave men who crossed Lake Michigan in 1881 to bring holiday trees from Michigan to Chicago for the German immigrants to enjoy, L. Walter Sterns & Co. took on the apprehensive task of resurrecting the John Reeger & Julie Shannon musical The Christmas Schooner from the ground up 3 years ago to bring to Chicago audiences; the city is the more thankful for it as the Mercury Theater’s annual tale has come to be adored as a new staple of holiday tradition & 2013’s outing is no less impressive & enjoyable to watch than ever before.  Karl Hamilton’s Captain Peter Stossel displays fine earnestness & grounded maturity with solidly lush vocals against wife, Alma – played sympathetically-courageous by the always fine Cory Goodrich. Jim Sherman returns once more as the perfectly-timed and stubborn father, Gustav, while the notably talented performances from Elizabeth Haley & Travis Taylor help draw story, brighten stage action and offer immense vocal talent.  Altogether the cast of 15 fine performers, most returning for another turn on the “The Christmas Tree Ship”, bring this regional tale to life with vigor & sincerity.  Jason Epperson’s lighting design & Richard/Jacquiline Penrod’s stage design haven’t changed but are still impressively large and no less glorious to take in, and Eugene Dizon’s music direction adds just the right touch of precision & subtly to the mix for a well-balanced evening of entertainment that proves if the Mercury Theater only has bugs in their brand new sound system still getting worked out – something is definitely working right since Sterns has taken over the jewel box space on Southport.  

On any given night post-Thanksgiving through early January, one can easily find a half-dozen fine theatrical productions in Chicago which provide bravado in telling stories that give pure proclivity to the Season’s repetitive & clamored-at themes. You have your solidly traditional Christmas Carol with the Goodman, the numerously unpredictable fringe offerings spotted here-and-there throughout the city, and now the trustworthy Mercury Theater production of The Christmas Schooner, which goes above-and-beyond all in the city to deliver a Chicago-based holiday story that is truly one-of-a-kind. 

Photo 3If the patrons this past Wednesday night have been citizens of this fair city for any significant stretch of time, they have learned that the weather is anything but predictable here. Therefore, it should have come as no shock to find, like the changing winds against the real Christmas Schooner that fell victim to the turning tide of Lake Michigan those many years ago, the temperatures outside on Southport Avenue changed during the 180 minute production on stage from balmy to brittle. Yes, it ushered the official start of the cold Seasonal weather that’s fraught with thoughts of snow drifts and chapped lips, but it also ushered in the opening of warm hearts & the official start of the Holiday Season in Chicago.

All hail – the Christmas Schooner is here again!

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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