Jessie Mueller James Monroe Iglehart
By John Reeger & Julie Shannon
INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY
New Studio Cast Recording
Jessie Mueller and James Monroe Iglehart
INTERESTED IN PRODUCING The Christmas Schooner at your theatre?
The Christmas Schooner is available for licensing througH Music Theatre International.
James Monroe Iglehart
Stephanie Jae Park
New Studio Cast Recording
Music & Lyrics by Julie Shannon
Book by John Reeger
Conductor/Piano - Ian Weinberger
Bass - Michael Blanco
Woodwinds - Christine MacDonnell
Guitar - Robin Macatangay
Cello - Allison Seidner
Violin - Maggie Gould Wilson
Percussion - Yuri Yamashita
Recording Produced by
Bill Geller, Angie Teo, Ian Weinberger,
Zachary Baer and Jillian Robbins
Music Direction & Orchestrations
Lauren Hirsh, Tasha Spear, Alex Weisman
Recorded at Sear Studios, New York
"The Christmas Schooner is a moving, joyous celebration of the importance of tradition. Julie Shannon's rich, melodic score is inspired -- and that's a word I rarely use." - SHELDON HARNICK
The Storytellers set the scene (WE ALL HAVE SONGS). It is Christmas Eve, 1881, in Manistique, a little village on the Northern coast of Lake Michigan.
In the Stossel home, nine-year-old Karl and his grandfather Gustav finish decorating the Tannenbuam, as Alma, Karl’s mother, busily sets the table for the holiday feast. Alma scolds Gustav for continually speaking German instead of English; she wants him to assimilate more fully into American life (THAT’S AMERICA).
Peter Stossel, Karl’s father and captain of the lumber schooner Molly Doone, arrives home, followed by his three crewmen, comically dressed in the traditional straw outfits of the Mummers. They noisily run around the room, shaking cans and clanging cowbells to scare off any evil spirits (THE MUMMERS ARE HERE). As the food is brought in, everyone gathers around the table to say grace. In the spirit of the first Christmas tree, they pass an evergreen branch around the table, as a symbol of sharing their blessings (BLESSINGS OF THE BRANCH).
Peter has received a letter from his cousin Martha in Chicago, reminiscing about the childhood Christmases in Germany and bemoaning the loss of holiday traditions in the new country, especially the tradition of decorating the Tannenbaum. Few evergreen trees grow in the vast grasslands of the Prairie State of Illinois (MARTHA’S LETTER). After the rest of the family and crew go into the parlor for Christmas pudding, Peter envisions Martha in his memory (THE LETTER). Moved by Martha’s words, Peter has the idea to face the winds and waters of Lake Michigan the following winter, to bring Christmas trees to Chicago’s German settlers. The scene ends with Karl placing the figure of an angel atop the family’s tree (THE LETTER (REPRISE)).
The scene shifts to the Manistique dock, the following fall (ANOTHER SEASON ON THE WATER). Peter informs the crew that he plans to make one more voyage this season – this time with a load of Christmas trees.
At a campfire in the middle of the North woods, where the crew has spent two weeks chopping and loading trees, the sailors complain about their long days and nights of work. They can’t comprehend why their captain wants to risk a voyage in the rough Lake Michigan winter. Peter enters, and the men retire to their bedrolls for the night. Alone with Karl, Peter doubts the wisdom of his own plan, but he is encouraged by his son’s confidence and love (WHEN I LOOK AT YOU).
Over Alma’s objections, which Peter his quieted with the reassurance that he will make the voyage “just this once,” Peter, Gustav and the crew set sail on the Molly Doone. The men encounter November gales and freezing rain on the lake, while back home, Alma and the other women busy themselves to try to keep from worrying (WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE WATER?).
The storm breaks, and as the schooner and its beleaguered crew finally approach the Clark Street dock in Chicago, Peter is still unsure. “What if we’ve gone through all this, and no one cares – no one wants the trees?” he asks his father. But through the morning mist in the harbor, the crew hears voices raised in song, and as the fog lifts, they are amazed to find a crowd of people cheering their arrival. Delighted, the men scurry to unload and sell the trees, culminating in a joyous celebration of the brave sailors and the holiday season (THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER).
As Alma patiently waits for Peter, Gustav and the crew to return, the Storytellers sing a carol (ENTR’ACTE: SONG OF THE HUNGRY PEASANTS). Meanwhile, the crewmen join the people of Chicago in their holiday festivities (WINTERFEST POLKA).
Waiting for the Molly Doone to return, Karl counts the days to Christmas and helps his mother around the house, just in case Christ Kindl is watching (LOVING SONS). Peter, Gustav and the crew arrive safely home with wonderful stories of their successful voyage, as well as an armful of presents. Alone together for a moment, Peter playfully waltzes Alma around the kitchen floor (THE STRUDEL WALTZ). The mood changes quickly, however, when Alma learns that Peter is planning another Christmas tree voyage for next year. Confronting him, Alma exclaims, “You sailed a winter lake and made it this year. What about next year? The year after? Peter, you have so much. Why risk it?” “Because I have so much,” he answers quietly.
It is now 1887 – five years later (ANOTHER SEASON ON THE WATER (REPRISE)). Gustav has broken his arm loading the last bunch of this year’s Christmas trees. Another sailor must quickly be found to replace him, and Karl, now fifteen, gets the nod. Despite his mother’s protests, Karl is ecstatic. He runs to the dock to share the news with the crew – who, at first, aren’t so sure about their new shipmate (HARDWATER SAILORS).
Aboard the Molly Doone, the crewmen run headlong into a violent storm. This time, the tiny schooner is no match for the furious lake (THE STORM). Karl and the other sailors are rescued, but Peter drowns when the Molly Doone breaks apart in the crashing waves.
A week later, at a rescue hospital in Bailey’s Harbor, Wisconsin, Karl and the crew are recuperating. Gustav and Alma arrive, having received the news. Karl tells them that many of the trees have washed up on shore, another schooner has been engaged, and the crew has decided to take the remaining trees to Chicago. Alma is filled with grief and doubt (QUESTIONS), but she finally acquiesces when Gustav convinces her of the importance of carrying on her husband’s work. Surprisingly, Alma insists on joining them for the voyage (WHEN I LOOK AT YOU (REPRISE)).
Some days later, at the Clark Street dock in Chicago, Alma sits on a crate, taking in the mild night air while the schooner is tied off for the night. A young Irish girl approaches Alma, saying that she has heard of the Molly Doone’s sinking, and that everyone says there will be no trees this year. But she has come to the harbor every day anyway, hoping that somehow the trees would arrive. Alma, struck that anyone besides Germans would even care about the Tannenbaum, finally understands the significance of Peter’s mission. She promises the girl that there will be a schooner filled with Christmas trees sailing into the Chicago harbor each and every Christmas to come (FINALE). “Our blessings aren’t ours to keep,” Alma says, handing the girl an evergreen branch. “They’re meant to be passed along.”
"My heart is full! I'm thrilled that a new generation will get to know this beautiful story about family, life, love, loss, and how to honor your past while still living for your future." - JESSIE MUELLER
Julie Shannon, Music & Lyrics
John Reeger, Book
John Reeger (book) and Julie Shannon (music & lyrics) collaborated on four musicals. Besides The Christmas Schooner, they wrote Stones, Let the Eagle Fly and, most recently, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, which garnered Chicago’s Jeff Award for best new work of 2016, four years after Julie lost a long battle with cancer.
The Christmas Schooner has had nearly 200 productions throughout the USA and England; holds the record as the longest running holiday musical in Chicago history; and in 2009 was named by the Chicago Tribune “the #1 holiday show” in the entire Chicago/Midwest region. Schooner is licensed for live performance by Music Theatre International. Its world premiere was at Northwestern University in 1993, directed by Dominic Missimi, with an orchestration and musical direction by Tom Murray. Its commercial world premiere was in 1995 at Bailiwick Repertory in Chicago under the direction of David Zak. At Bailiwick, with a strong cast that included child actor Cecily Strong, the show was greeted with critical acclaim, on the heels of which Julie’s mentor, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, recommended that MTI represent the show for licensing.
The musical drama Let the Eagle Fly—The Story of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers has been produced in several states and in 2004 received a sold-out concert production directed by Ricardo Gutierrez as part of the Goodman Theatre’s International Latino Theatre Festival (Henry Godinez, Artistic Director). The show’s productions in California were applauded by relatives of the late Cesar Chavez, who called it one of the most authentic artistic depictions of the farmworkers’ arduous battle for economic justice ever written. A Texas production in Hidalgo county—the lowest income county in the nation, on the U.S.-Mexico border—brought the show to farm country and was an indelible experience for farmworkers who watched their child actors on stage alongside veteran music theatre performers. The invigorating orchestration is by Broadway and film orchestrator Larry Blank (orchestrator of The Drowsy Chaperone, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas; films The American President and Forget Paris; co-orchestrator of stage and film productions of The Producers and the film of Chicago).
Stones, which debuted at the St. Louis Black Rep in 1989, is the show which gave Felicia P. Fields her first taste of acting, as she worked with Julie and John in the mid-1980s to record song demos. The moving, melodic, spirited score, featuring blues and gospel music, has won praise from critics and theatrical writers, directors, producers and performers, including Felicia P. Fields (Tony nomination for Ophra’s production of The Color Purple), Rosetta LeNoire (founder of Amas Repertory Theatre in Harlem and celebrated stage and screen actress), Harry Lennox (films The Five Heartbeats, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League; TV’s The Blacklist), Sheldon Harnick (Tony, Grammy, Oscar and Pulitzer Prize winning lyricist for Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me). “One Breath,” a song from Stones, is licensed by Williamson Music of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and has been widely used around the nation in ceremonies and public service announcements dealing with racial and religious equity.
The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes is the final Reeger-Shannon collaboration, which composer-lyricist Michael Mahler was enlisted to help complete following Julie’s death in 2012. The show’s world premiere at Mercury Theatre Chicago, featuring Nick Sandys as Sherlock Holmes and Michael Aaron Lindner as murderous author Arthur Conan Doyle, won the 2016 Joseph Jefferson Award for outstanding “new work” and was enthusiastically reviewed by Chicago critics. Rachel Rockwell directed development workshops and Michael Mahler served as musical director. The orchestration is by Matt Deitchmann.
Besides her collaborations with John Reeger, Julie has written and recorded albums for children (and adults who love children) with award-winning storyteller Rives Collins, a professor in Northwestern University’s Theatre Department. Their album "Let’s Fill Up the House with Stories and Songs" garnered a Parents’ Choice Award. An ASCAP member, Julie was a long-time member of the Lehman Engel BMI Musical Theatre Workshop in New York City. Her mentor for 30 years was Sheldon Harnick, whose legendary shows with composer Jerry Bock won Tony Awards, Oscars, Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize.
An award-winning Chicago-based actor, John has performed in more than a hundred plays and musicals on Chicago-area stages, including Court, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare and the Goodman. Elsewhere, John has appeared in productions at the Kennedy Center, Goodspeed Opera House, The Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, Fulton Theatre and at the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK. He appeared in Goodman Theatre’s production of The Iceman Cometh starring Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy, which transferred in 2015 to New York for a celebrated run at Brooklyn Academy of Music. John’s play about McCarthy Era blacklisting of television actors, Changing Channels, debuted in 2022 at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
John and Julie are grateful members of the Dramatists Guild.
“I’ve always wanted to work on a holiday album and this one is so full of heart, the music is so good and it’s a true story. Plus the chance to sing with Jessie Mueller...I couldn’t say no!” - JAMES MONROE IGLEHART
FROM THE TEAM
The Christmas Schooner has delighted audiences for more than a quarter of a century across the country. But in Chicago, where we both used to live, it is an institution; it has been performed there most years, during the holiday season, since its 1995 debut. If you’re a performer in the Windy City, you’re either in the Schooner family, or you know someone who is.
It’s fitting, then, that this recording began through an extended theatre family. Scott’s wife, Caitlin, was a close family friend to beloved composer Julie Shannon, as well as her husband, Bill Geller. Some years ago, Bill approached the two of us, asking about the possibility of a new cast recording of Schooner, with new orchestrations. Julie had passed away in 2012, and the idea was to honor her legacy by bringing the show to a new generation of audiences.
We were touched to be asked, but neither of us had the chance to know Julie, and while we had both seen productions of Schooner, we’d never done it before. (And, for that matter…we’re both Jewish.) Thankfully, Bill still thought we would be the right people for the job, and we’re so glad he did. Julie’s beautiful score and John Reeger’s heartfelt book reached us right away: this is a story about family, about immigrants, about the holiday spirit, and, like a certain dairyman would say, tradition.
But a lot of stories are about those things. This is also a story about a man with an idea to make a difference in one community. It’s about what happens when, faced with skepticism and dangerous obstacles, he acts on that idea and gives that community a great gift. It’s about the way an unselfish act can be contagious. And it’s about a decisive, steadfast woman who, in the wake of personal tragedy, sees that act through to the end.
It has been a joy to collaborate with Bill and John to bring a new Schooner to life. And it was an absolute gift to bring in some of our favorite artists to create it with us. We recorded this album in summer 2021; for many of us, it was our first time making music live in a room together with other people since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was joyous, and sweet, and in some ways overwhelming, to get to sing and play together. And it was especially poignant to look around the room at a gathering of friends old and new — and to discover this score together, as a company. Neither of us could have predicted just how much that act of community would mean to us — it’s truly a memory we will treasure.
We’re honored to now be a part of the Christmas Schooner family, and we’re so excited and proud to share this new studio cast recording with you. Take it, and pass the love along.
Ian Weinberger & Scott Weinstein
New York City