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The Christmas Schooner

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The Christmas Schooner, Bailiwick Repertory. Imagine no Big Tree in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field's, no official one in Daley Plaza. The Christmas Schooner pays tribute to the heroic entrepreneurs who brought similar trees to Chicago in the 19th century, schooner captains and crews who braved a wintry Lake Michigan to provide some desperately needed Christmas cheer, celebrating light and warmth despite December's cold dark.

Now on its eighth voyage, John Reeger and Julie Shannon's effortlessly heartwarming musical depicts the hard-won success of a German-American family in upper Michigan trying to deliver Christmas trees to their Chicago cousins. It's a venture dogged by uncertainty, both economic and meteorological. If the ghosts that haunt Ebenezer Scrooge are metaphorical, the Lake Michigan gales in this blast from the past are concrete and very familiar.

Too detailed to be sentimental, the musical demands only care and charm: director Phil Gigante is true to its big heart. Younger than their predecessors, Laura Sturm and Karl Sean Hamilton are the stalwart Stossels: Hamilton's captain radiates authority--and sheer love in "When I Look at You"--while Sturm stands for all the women who've watched the skies and feared for their men. As young Karl, Brendon Martin is a mischievous delight in "That's What Loving Sons Are For," Vincent L. Lonergan plays the Teutonic grandpa with a foxy twinkle, and the chorus--playing everyone from hungry peasants to corrupt Chicagoans--can do no (musical) wrong.

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