In a season steeped in holiday cheer and those trusty visions of dancing sugarplums, our intolerance for the supremely saccharine is admittedly softened. So while we might normally cringe a little at such syrupy musical fare, in context, the Mercury Theater’s seasonal mounting of The Christmas Schooner is a welcome, heartfelt treat.
The long-running, Chicago-centric show marks its third season on the Mercury's stage by putting a core cast of familiar actors back at the helm. Reprising their roles from seasons past, Cory Goodrich as Alma Stossel, Karl Hamilton as Peter Stossel and James Wilson Sherman as Gustav Stossel (among others) steer a steady ship with sweetness and strength. Goodrich and Hamilton in particular approach their roles with earnest steeliness.
The story, based on the real-life voyages (and in one case, wreck) of the vessels and their crews that braved winter on Lake Michigan at the turn of the 20th century to deliver Christmas trees to German immigrant families in Chicago, glows with a certain Disneyesque family appeal, complete with dramatic flair, lessons of love and sharing and a score that's both catchy and haunting. And with real pines for props the audience can smell and touch, the gooey nostalgia the show provokes becomes a totally sensory experience.
It’s far from groundbreaking theater, but the Schooner, like the ships that inspired it, is tried and true. If you’re looking for a festive alternative to the same old stuffy Scrooge and Tiny Tim with a Chicago twist, it’s well worth your Christmastime.