The Christmas Schooner | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Christmas Schooner 

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Now in its sixth season, Bailiwick Repertory's sturdy, openhearted production of John Reeger and Julie Shannon's musical celebrates the courage of sailors from northern Michigan who braved Lake Michigan's November gales to bring Chicago its first Christmas trees in the 1880s. Rooted in the experiences of a real family, the plot draws strength from its fascinating details about Great Lakes sailing, including a recipe for the disgusting slumgullion stew. Reeger's book solidly re-creates a world that was uncertainly making New World accommodations to Old World traditions. And Shannon's score, which moves effortlessly from German hymns and mummers' carols to pop anthems and period polkas and stomp dances, perfectly complements the heroic tale. Inspired by a letter from his sister in Chicago, Captain Peter Stossel hit on a new--and very old--use for fir trees from the Upper Peninsula: as Tannenbäume for Chicago's huge German population, and later the entire city (an unexpected crowd of 500 welcomed the schooner Molly Doone at the Clark Street dock). This year's revival, once again staged by David Zak, features most of last season's cast. (Their music making is now immortalized in a new CD of Shannon's 16 songs, including the title rouser and the pulsating ballad "What Is It About the Water?") Bailiwick Repertory, Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont, 773-883-1090. Through December 31: Thursdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 PM; Sundays, 2:30 PM; Wednesday, December 20 and 27, 7:30 PM; Sunday, December 17, 2:30 and 7:30 PM; no show Thursday, December 7. $20-$30. Note: Selections from the show will be performed at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand, on Friday, December 1, at 5:30 PM. Free. Also: An abridged concert version of the show will be performed Wednesday, December 6, at 6 PM at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton. $10; call 312-255-3510.

--Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Daniel Guidara.

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