Though it's a bit early in the holiday season for a Christmas play, the messages in "The Christmas Schooner" transcend its yuletide setting.
A local cast opened the musical production with a boatload of heart Friday night at the Lawrence Community Theatre.
The play, by John Reeger and Julie Shannon, is based on the true story of a 19th century German immigrant schooner captain, Peter Stossel, who is touched by a letter his cousin sends from Chicago about a shortage of Christmas trees in the city. Cpt. Stossel braves the perilous winter waters of Lake Michigan to deliver evergreens to fellow German transplants in Chicago who long to continue the tradition of Tannenbaum.
Before the journey begins, scenes in the Stossels' Michigan home establish the family's closeness. Playful banter between Peter Stossel's wife, Alma (Sarah Young), and his father, Gustav (Alfred Lata), about Gustav's propensity to speak his native tongue and her preference that he speak "American" make for good laughs.
The company's performance of the warm, fuzzy "The Blessings of the Branch" tenderly communicates the play's predominant moral: that we should count our blessings and pass them on.
Colby Sostarich as 9-year-old Karl Stossel charmingly plays the young son of a sailor who wants to grow up to be just like his dad, even though he wonders whether the Christmas tree mission is a good idea. Alma has questions, too, and Young passionately portrays her mixed emotions: pride in her caring husband, grave fear that he won't return from the water and anger that he's willing to risk his life for complete strangers.
Touching moments pervade the production. Hayes sings his son to sleep while laying bare his own misgivings about his journey in "When I Look at You." The feeling with which Hayes sang and acted throughout the performance forgave the few moments when he stumbled over lines or went a bit flat in pitch.
Especially dazzling was the singing of Young and Quinn Wasson, who plays Karl Stossel at age 15. Young has a beautiful voice, capable of achieving robust and quiet tones in a wide range. Her rendition of "Questions" topped the play's solo performances.
Quinn shined in "Hardwater Sailor," the initiation number in which he earns the respect of the crew of the Molly Doon. His strong, clear tenor was made even more impressive by the fact that he was dancing quite actively as he sang.
Lata played Gustav with just the right dose of grandfatherly warmth and humor. His voice, smooth and deep, was particularly lovely in "When I Look at You," a duet with Young.
|Lawrence Community Theatre's production of "The Christmas Schooner" continues at 2:30 p.m. today at the theater, 1501 N.H. Performances also are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Dec. 6 and Dec. 7; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5; and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 1 and Dec. 8.|
Not to be forgotten was the ensemble cast, who narrated the story and joined together for rousing company numbers, like "What Is It About the Water?" Ann LaPoint was a standout in her ringing soprano solos. Chris Cook, Jeff Blair and Brent McCall got lots of laughs as three rascally sailors.
Also noteworthy were the set design, which included a collapsible schooner; period costumes designed by Annette Cooke; and John Aldridge's creative lighting, complete with moonlight and campfire.
The 2 1/2-hour show may be a little long for young children. But its emphasis on family connections, the importance of traditions and having a generous spirit make it the perfect destination for a family outing.