Finding a new Christmas show with just the right mix of music, history, sentiment, plot and tradition is no easy task. Maria Caprile, director of “The Christmas Schooner,” which opens tonight at the Spokane Civic Theatre, believes the Civic has found exactly that.
This original musical, which premiered in 1996 in Chicago, is based on the true story of the Great Lakes schooner captains, who brought the trees to Chicago during the late 1800s. They shipped Christmas trees from the Upper Peninsula down Lake Michigan and sold them on the Chicago docks. And they did so at great peril, since November and December are treacherous on these vast inland seas.
Caprile called the show “very entertaining, family-friendly and unapologetically religious,” as well as being a wonderful lesson in a little known branch of Christmas lore.
“It’s really about history,” she said. “About how we create it, and how important it is to create it and pass it along.”
It also has a moving musical score, with music and lyrics by Julie Shannon.
“It has some of the most beautiful music you’ll ever hear – very, very choral, which is appropriate for Christmas,” said Caprile.
All of the songs are original except for a rendition of “O Tannenbaum.” The musical tells the story of how the German tradition of the “tannenbaum” (Christmas tree) spread into American culture. The play, written by John Reeger, follows the Gustav and Alma Stossel family in 1881 as they bring trees to the many German immigrants in Chicago.
When the show was first done at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in Chicago in 1996, it utilized a minimalist set with benches and stools.
“We’re not doing that at the Civic,” said Caprile with a laugh. “We have a ship that comes on stage, a shipwreck, thunder and lightning.”
The show also has a 16-person cast. Dennis Craig, a veteran of many local productions, plays Capt. Stossel. Heidi Gnos Kuban, a newcomer to the Civic stage, plays Alma Stossel.
The rest of the cast includes Hannah Lee, Tony Caprile, Dan Griffith, Gary Pierce, Peter Gardner, Mark Sims, Jared Mola, Amy Schoedel, Tami Knoell, Alexis Main, Charlotte Orrino, Danielle Martin, Keyonna Knight and Christy Finley.