Meet the Artists

The Christmas Schooner Cast

(click image to see artist bio)

The Christmas Schooner Creative Team

JOHN REEGER (Book) and JULIE SHANNON (Music and Lyrics) are thrilled that The Christmas Schooner has become a Chicago holiday tradition over the decades and that the historic Mercury Theater Chicago is our happy home. Since its launch by David Zak at Bailiwick Theatre, where The Christmas Schooner received the After Dark Award for Outstanding New Work and enjoyed a 12-year run, this show has had over 150 American productions and a European premiere in Bristol, England. Music Theatre International licenses the show worldwide. The “Songs from The Christmas Schooner” piano-vocal CD is available by contacting John and Julie collaborated on three other musicals. Stones premiered at the St. Louis Black Rep and was subsequently produced in Phoenix, Arizona and in Chicago at Bailiwick, where it starred Felicia Fields (Tony nominee for The Color Purple) and won a Black Theatre Alliance award. The duo’s musical Let the Eagle Fly—The Story of Cesar Chavez was performed in a sold-out concert at the Goodman Theatre in the 2004 Latino Theatre Festival helmed by Henry Godinez and has been produced in California, Texas, and Illinois. Let the Eagle Fly has been hailed for its artistry and authenticity, including by the Chavez family and other civil rights leaders. John’s and Julie’s final collaboration is The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes. In Julie’s last months of life in 2012, she and John hoped that Sherlock would receive a strong world premiere. With the talents of co-composer/lyricist Michael Mahler, developmental director Rachel Rockwell, stage director Warner Crocker, an all-star cast and design team, and supported by producer Walter Stearns, that dream came true on Mercury Theater Chicago’s stage in early 2016. The writers, Julie, John and Michael, were honored with the 2016 Jeff Award for Outstanding New Work.

LARRY BLANK (Orchestrations) is one of the most prolific and sought after composers, conductors, and orchestrators in the entertainment business today. He was the Music Director/Conductor and/or vocal arranger for many shows on Broadway and in Los Angeles including They’re Playing Our Song, Evita, Sugar Babies, La Cage Aux Folles, Phantom Of The Opera, Onward Victoria, Copperfield, Colette, A Chorus Line and A Little Night Music. He has been nominated for both the Tony and Drama Desk Award for his orchestrations in The Drowsy Chaperone, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and Catch Me If You Can, as well as receiving Drama Desk nominations for Honeymoon in Vegas and A Christmas Story. Blank’s background includes orchestrating and arranging songs for the films South Park, Chicago, and The Producers. Mr. Blank is currently represented on Broadway with his orchestrations in Holiday Inn: The New Irving Berlin Musical.

L. WALTER STEARNS (Director) As Executive Director of Mercury Theater Chicago, Walter is a champion for Chicago artists and productions and has overseen the physical and cultural revival of a beautiful theatre. He has directed over 30 musicals including his Jeff Award winning productions of The Addams Family and Ragtime as well as the Jeff Award nominated productions of The Producers, The Addams Family, Avenue Q, The Color Purple, Barnum-The Circus Musical, The Christmas Schooner, Nine the Musical, Ragtime, Gypsy, The Secret Garden, Sweeney Todd, Company, A New Brain, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along and Falsettos. He was pleased to produce The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, which was awarded the Jeff Award for New Work. Walter has received the Jeff Award, BroadwayWorld Award, After Dark Awards, the Larry Sloan Advocate Award (for his support of Season of Concern), the first Guy Adkins award for his contributions to the art of musical theatre and the Franny Award as a distinguished alumnus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

EUGENE DIZON (Musical Director) is so proud to musical direct his 6th season of The Christmas Schooner! Eugene last musical directed The Producers and the Jeff award winning production of The Addams Family with Mercury Theater Chicago. Eugene has been musical directing for over two decades garnering 6 Jeff Awards (Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, Amadeus, Company, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along), as well as Jeff nominations for A Grand Night for Singing, Candide, Nine the Musical, Closer Than Ever, A Little Night Music, Passion, Colette Collage, and Falsettos; 4 After Dark Awards (Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, A New Brain, Merrily We Roll Along), a BroadwayWorld Award for Mercury’s Avenue Q and a BroadwayWorld nomination for The Color Purple. Eugene is honored to have been inducted into the Chicago Filipino Hall of Fame. Eugene has co-produced 4 “Season of Carols” CD’s (with the amazing Cory Goodrich) which features some of the brightest talent in Chicago theater today, for which Season of Concern awarded him the Larry Sloan Advocate Award (2013). Help support Chicago artists by picking up this year’s “Season of Carols Volume 4” CD at the door!

BRENDA DIDIER (Choreography) is thrilled to sail the Molly Doone with this incredible cast, creative team, crew and band! Ms. Didier has choreographed this special show since 1999. Much gratitude to Walter, Eugene, Andrew, Leah and Rita! Ms. Didier is a multiple Jeff Award recipient in both direction and choreography and the recipient of After Dark Awards, Broadway World Awards, the National Youth Theatre Award and choreography awards from the Society of Theatre Artists and Friends.  She is the owner/director of the Lincolnshire Academy of Dance- now in its 19th successful season. She is most proud of the scholarship program to help others in need. These scholarships are in memory of very special artists and people including Bernie Yvon, Matthew Gunnels, Harlan Haimes, Julie Shannon and Jim Sherman. “Jim-Thank you for being Grandpa Gus to us all. We miss you and love you dearly Opa”. For Julie and Jim. Love to Mike and Mom! Merry Christmas!

CAROL J. BLANCHARD U.S.A. (Costume Design) has worked for companies such as Cleveland Symphony’s Blossom Opera, New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, Skylight Music Theater, Chautauqua Institution, First Stage, Champlain Shakespeare Festival, Victory Gardens, Drury Lane, and Silk Road Rising.  She has been nominated for awards in NY and Chicago, and has been honored with a Jeff Award for her costumes in Amadeus and an After Dark Award for her collaboration in the Silk Road Theatre’s Golden Child.  Carol is a Professor Emeritus at The State University of New York and is currently an adjunct professor at DePaul University.  She is an award-winning quilter and teaches quilting technique classes around the area.

RACHEL BOYLAN (Wardrobe Supervisor) has been the wardrobe supervisor at Mercury Theater Chicago for the past 5 years where she can also be found in the role of costume manager, stitcher, and costume designer. Some of her recent design credits include: Avenue Q (Mercury Theater Chicago); All Girl Dracula (The Mammals); Who Too (The Right Brian Project); Der Kaiser Von Atlantis (New Millennium Orchestra); Antigone, Henry Moore is Melting (Cold Basement Dramatics); Leavings (Polarity Theater Ensemble) and The Dancing Plague (The Right Brian Project). She would like to thank Walter and Eugene for allowing her to call the Mercury her work home!

JASON EPPERSON (Lighting Design) is proud to return to the Mercury where he lit productions of Barnum, A Grand Night For Singing, The Men and their Music, Come Fly with Me, and Pop Psychology. When he is not lighting shows, he is a producer, general manager, and consultant for theater and live entertainment. Jason produced Churchill, which had two sell-out runs in Chicago as well as a hit Off-Broadway run at New World Stages in New York, garnering a Jeff Award for actor and writer Ronald Keaton. Most recently, he was General Manager for The Bardy Bunch at Mercury Theater Chicago. Jason is currently developing several new plays and musicals for productions in Chicago and beyond.

JACQUELINE AND RICHARD PENROD U.S.A. (Scenic Design) are very happy to once again be sailing with Mercury Theater Chicago on The Christmas Schooner. The Penrods also designed the set for the Mercury Theater Chicago’s production of Barnum. Their award-winning design work has been seen locally and regionally. Some of their recent designs include: Richard III for Gift Theater produced at Steppenwolf Theatre; Big Fish, All Shook Up and A Christmas Carol at Theatre at the Center; Stick Flyfor Windy City Playhouse; Hank Williams: Lost Highway at American Blues Theater; Mud Sky Blue for A Red Orchid Theatre Company; Luck of the Irish and Welcome Home Jenny Sutterfor Next Theatre Company; Love and Information, Northanger Abby and The Importance Of Being Earnest for Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. They have received many nominations and awards for their design work.  They are both members of United Scenic Artists.

MIKE ROSS (Sound Design) is an owner of Sound Production & Lighting LLC, a full-service production, rental, and sales company. Mike / SPL has handled audio, video, and lighting production for clients across the country, ranging from corporate events for MillerCoors, Nike, The Chicago Bears, United, Volkswagen, The Chicago Consular Corps to national music acts, educational productions, and installations. Previous theatrical sound designs for Mercury Theater Chicago include The Bardy Bunch, The Producers, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, The Christmas Schooner (2011 thru 2016), The Addams Family, Avenue Q, The Color Purple, Barnum, and A Grand Night for Singing. Mike also served as the audio department head for the Chicago production of Million Dollar Quartet since 2012. For more information, please visit

CARL WAHLSTROM (Sound Board Operator) is ecstatic to be working on The Christmas Schooner as his 7th show at Mercury Theater Chicago. A Maine native, Carl got his start working at Penobscot Theatre Company. He also worked at Production Services of Maine, setting up for large touring acts on the Bangor Waterfront. Carl graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Audio and Acoustics from Columbia College Chicago in 2015. He’s happy to be the resident sound engineer at Mercury Theater Chicago and enjoys occasional gigs at Schuba’s Tavern, Lincoln Hall, and the Riviera Theatre.

RITA VREELAND* (Stage Manager) is sailing her 6th voyage of the Schooner here at the Mercury. Rita has been stage managing in Chicago for 20 years, with productions at Northlight Theatre, Theatre at the Center, Victory Gardens, Apple Tree Theatre, Route 66, and many others. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to three year old Charlie. Happy Holidays and thank you for supporting live theatre!

ANDREW WATERS (Production Assistant) is thrilled to be back at Mercury Theater Chicago working with this wonderful artistic team. He most recently collaboratedon the creation of Music Theatre International’s new School Edition of West Side Story as well as choreographing the pilot production.  He also had the pure delight of assisting Brenda Didier on the Mercury’s Jeff Award winning production of The Addams Family. Other Mercury productions include The Color Purple, Barnum, and previous years of Schooner. Andrew has been a freelance choreographer of over 60 productions and has been a proud member of Actors’ Equity for 26 years. He would like to thank you and your family for supporting live theater and this holiday favorite.