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‘The Christmas Schooner’ gets a bigger venue and an expert refit

A boy (Daniel Coonley) his grandfather (Jim Sherman) live Upper Peninsul“The Christmas Schooner.”

A boy (Daniel Coonley) and his grandfather (Jim Sherman) live in the Upper Peninsula in “The Christmas Schooner.”

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Christmas Schooner’


◆ To Dec. 31

◆ Mercury Theater,
3745 N. Southport

◆ $30-$49.50

◆ (773) 325-1700; mer-


Updated: December 29, 2011 8:10AM

After a 12-year run at Bailiwick Repertory, the seasonal favorite “The Christmas Schooner” seemed to have run its course. But L. Walter Stearns, the artistic director of the Mercury Theater, has given the musical new life in a production that pleases in every way.

Stearns, who put Porchlight Music Theatre on the map before moving to the Mercury, has infused “The Christmas Schooner” with a new vitality. He’s cast the show with an array of talented singer-actors, including some familiar faces from past productions. And the size of the Mercury stage allows for an opened-up set that makes the show seem bigger yet more intimate.

John Reeger (book) and Julie Shannon (music and lyrics) really hit on something when they uncovered the bit of Great Lakes history around which they built “The Christmas Schooner.” The touching slice-of-life story revolves around German immigrants living on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It also reminds us that, as one lyric states, “we all have songs, we all have stories.”

In the town of Manistique, German immigrants Alma (Cory Goodrich) and Peter Stossel (Karl Hamilton), their young son Karl (Daniel Coonley) and Peter’s father, Gustav (Jim Sherman), live a happy life filled with hard work and good will.

On Christmas Eve, Peter, captain of the schooner Molly Doone, receives a letter from his cousin Martha in Chicago, who laments the lost traditions left behind in the Old Country. One of these traditions is the Christmas tree; there just are not enough to go around.

Against Alma’s wishes, Peter begins to make plans for the next Christmas when he and his crew will take a shipload of trees to Chicago, traveling over the treacherous winter waters of Lake Michigan. It is a mission that, for better or worse, gets done for many years to come.

Stearns, musical director Eugene Dizon and choreographer Brenda Didier have sculpted the 15-member cast into a precise ensemble that perfectly brings to life Shannon’s lovely songs.

Jacqueline and Richard Penrod’s sculpted wooden set, backed by a massive parchment-like map of the Great Lakes, is impressive, especially when transformed into a schooner fighting the waves on Lake Michigan.

With this heartwarming production, “The Christmas Schooner” rejoins the ranks of holiday favorites. It’s good to have it back.

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