Hey, Mom! The Explanation.

Here's the permanent dedicated link to my first Hey, Mom! post and the explanation of the feature it contains.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #516 - The Christmas Schooner Review - 2016 - WAD

Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #516 - The Christmas Schooner Review - 2016 - WAD

Hey Mom,

Here's my most recent review.

A sad one, but with Christmas Spirit.

People should go see live theatre.


"The Christmas Schooner”
a production of What A Do Theatre
Attended Date: December 02, 2016
reviewed by Christopher Tower

At the opening night for What A Do Theatre’s “The Christmas Schooner,” director Randy Wolfe admitted that he feels old. “Many of the cast members who played children when we did this show in 2011 are now in adult roles,” he said. Though the casting may remind Wolfe of how young actors grow, the show does not make audiences feel old; instead it fills them with the Christmas spirit and the joy of giving.

The What A Do Theatre returns to the first show it staged in its Springfield location this season with the Michigan based story written by John Reeger and Julie Shannon. The story is as old as it makes director Wolfe feel. “The Christmas Schooner” is the true story of the German immigrant ship captain, who, in the 1880s, risks his life on a winter lake to deliver Christmas trees from the Upper Peninsula to Chicago.

The first production of “The Christmas Schooner” premiered at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in Chicago in 1996 and won a Chicago After Dark Award. “Schooner” has repeated annually at the Windy City repertory, and though the What A Do Theatre has not made this show its own annual tradition, it does return to the show it first performed in 2011 for the last performance of 2016.
Christmas revellers will not find magical snowmen or beacon-making reindeer here. There are smatterings of traditional Christmas carols but only as atmosphere for this tear-jerking musical.
“The Christmas Schooner” doesn’t need tinsel and hall decking jubilance front to back to provide a powerful and cathartic emotional experience. What A Do Theatre provides another highly-entertaining theater experience, following on the great, hold-over success of its previous production “Peter and the Star Catcher.”

At times somber and other times joyous, “The Christmas Schooner” lifts the spirits of its audiences with a story of the indefatigable human will and the perseverance to overcome all obstacles to bring the joy of Christmas and its traditions to those in need.

The show opens in Manistique, Michigan on Christmas Eve in 1881 when Peter Stossel (Nicholas Mumma) receives a letter from his cousin Martha (Averi Beck), who lives in Chicago and yearns to keep alive the traditions of her German homeland by decorating the tannenbaum. Once Stossel learns that there is a need for evergreens in Chicago, he decides that next year he will make a late run in his schooner – fighting November gales on Lake Michigan – to bring trees to the German immigrants 300 miles to the southwest.

Stossel’s wife Alma (Betsy King) objects to her husband’s foolhardy plan and believes he will stay put the next year tending to his lumber business and their young son Karl (Ben Perry). This conflict is established from the show’s first scene, in which Alma argues with her father-in-law, Gustav (Jeff Stierle) about speaking German in the house. “We’re in America now,” she says, “and we should speak like Americans.” The theme of keeping the old ways alive as the immigrants adapt to their new life in America runs through the entire show and culminates in the spread of the tannenbaum tradition among all the new Americans not just the Germans of Chicago.

The first run in 1882 proves difficult, but Stossel reaches Chicago, mainly due his fine crew (Joe Dely, Brenner Beck, James King II, and Scott Whitesell). The people of Chicago are overjoyed at the arrival of the Christmas Schooner and the crew sells out its load of 2500 trees in one day. The first act ends on a jubilant note as the city dwellers and schooner’s crew rejoice in the bounty of trees.
Under the watchful eye of director Randy Wolfe and the efforts of the cast (which also includes Lynda Hensel, Maddy Haywood, Camryn Mueller, and Hunter King), the audience should feel choked up, if not having tears fall, as the schooner spreads its Christmas joy. The scenes leading up to the end of the first act are expertly paced and designed by Wolfe, and the cast keeps a tight grip on its energy, doling out just enough at each beat to build to a strong and emotional climax. A highlight of Act One is some freestyle dancing by James King II that brought rollicking applause from the audience.

In Act Two, Stossel proposes to make his trip an annual occasion over the objections of his wife that the winter lake is too dangerous. The story fast forwards ahead to 1887, when Karl has turned fifteen (now played by Derek Whitesell). That year. the November gale of 1887 proves too much for the schooner, and Peter Stossel goes down with his ship, though he manages to bring his crew (and the trees) to shore.

The two performers reprising their 2011 roles carry the show. Jeff Stierle and Betsy King are the two best things in the 2016 production of “The Christmas Schooner.” When the duo sing “Questions” following news of Peter Stossel’s death, they deliver the best scene in the show. The remainder of the show is not quite as strong as its 2011 version, but it may not matter since in the tear-producing power department, the pathos conjured by the show intensifies with each scene and overwhelms by the end.

The acting of King and Stierle provides the kind of potent drama for which the What A Do Theatre has become well known. However, those seeking holly jollies will not find them here. The cast reprises its most optimistic and hopeful songs at the end of the show – “The Blessings of the Branch” and “We All Have Songs” – in an attempt to end on an up note but neither song really serves up the kind of ebullience of a rousing “Joy to the World.”

“The Christmas Schooner” may not be decking halls and cozying up with “Santa Baby” but its heartfelt message of generosity and Christmas giving warms the hearts. Audiences on opening night thanked the company ebulliently at the curtain.

Running for three weeks, it’s a fitting addition to any family’s Christmas celebrations.


Reflect and connect.

Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.

I miss you so very much, Mom.

Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.


- Days ago = 518 days ago

- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1612.04 - 10:10

NOTE on time: When I post late, I had been posting at 7:10 a.m. because Google is on Pacific Time, and so this is really 10:10 EDT. However, it still shows up on the blog in Pacific time. So, I am going to start posting at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time, intending this to be 10:10 Eastern time. I know this only matters to me, and to you, Mom. But I am not going back and changing all the 7:10 a.m. times. But I will run this note for a while. Mom, you know that I am posting at 10:10 a.m. often because this is the time of your death.
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