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 their happy home. Since its launch by David Zak at Bailiwick Theatre, where Schooner received the After Dark Award for Outstanding New Work and enjoyed a 12-year run, this show has had over 160 American productions and a European premiere in Bristol, England. Music Theatre International licenses the show worldwide. The “Songs from The Christmas Schooner” piano-vocal studio cast album is available by contacting LMAMusic@aol.com. 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 P. 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. After Julie died in 2012, they were blessed to have composer/lyricist Michael Mahler and developmental director Rachel Rockwell join the creative team. The show’s world premiere at Mercury Theater Chicago in 2016 won John, Julie and Michael the Jeff Award for 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 Prince of Broadway.
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 Mary Poppins, 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 is 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 seventh season of The Christmas Schooner. 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 BroadwayWorld nominations for this past season’s Hair and Mary Poppins, as well as The Color Purple. Additionally, he has musical directed The Producers and Barnum at the Mercury. Eugene is honored to have been inducted into the Chicago Filipino Hall of Fame. Eugene has co-produced 5 “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 5” CD at the door. Thanks to Walter, Brenda, Andrew, and Rita, as well as this amazing cast and crew!
BRENDA DIDIER (Choreography) is always happy to set sail again with this special show! Thank you, Walter, Eugene, Andrew, this amazing cast, crew, musicians, and most of all, John Reeger and the late great Julie Shannon for this remarkable and powerful work and holiday tradition! Ms. Didier made her Mercury Theater Chicago directing debut this past summer with Hair and has also choreographed Mary Poppins, The Addams Family, The Color Purple and Barnum here at the Mercury. She is a freelance choreographer/director based in Chicago, the owner/director of the Lincolnshire Academy of Dance, now in its 20th season and a multiple Jeff Award recipient in both direction and choreography. Thank you for sharing the holidays with us as we sail the Schooner! Love to Mom and Mike always and my special angels, Darryl Didier, Albert Didier, Matthew Gunnels and our forever "Opa", Jim Sherman. 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.
DUSTIN L. DERRY (Lighting Design) is celebrating his first project with Mercury Theater Chicago. A proud Chicago native, Dustin has been bringing his unique blend design style, love for new technology, and passion for his artistry to the dance and theatre world of Chicago and beyond for the past 15 years. He is the co-founder and CEO of Stonewolf Studios, production design and management company serving the Chicago dance communities as well several national touring companies. Most recently Dustin's theatrical work includes working with NightBlue on Bullets Over Broadway. In the dance world, 'D', has been increasingly active with companies like Ensemble Español, Inaside Chicago Dance, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, the Moscow Ballet, and many more. Dustin's work often will blend together conventional lighting with LEDs, lasers, and projection to create richly colorful and dynamic worlds around performers on stage. Finally, Dustin would like to ask you to please, 'Be the Change You Wish to See in the World'
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 Penrod’s 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 Griffin Theater produced at Steppenwolf Theatre; Big Fish, All Shook Up and A Christmas Carol at Theatre at the Center; Stick Fly for 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 Sutter for 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 Mary Poppins, The Producers, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, The Christmas Schooner (2011 thru 2017), 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 www.spl-design.com.
CARL WAHLSTROM (Sound Board Engineer) is grateful to be working on The Christmas Schooner as his 12th show at Mercury Theater Chicago. His sound design was recently heard in Mercury Theater Chicago's production of Hair (BroadwayWorld Nomination) and I Left My Heart: A Salute to Tony Bennett. A Maine native, Carl got his start working at Penobscot Theatre Company and at Production Services of Maine. Carl graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Audio and Acoustics from Columbia College Chicago in 2015. He is happy to be the resident sound engineer at Mercury Theater Chicago and enjoys occasional gigs at Schubas Tavern, The Riviera, and other Chicago venues.
SERENA SANDOVAL (Wardrobe/Wig Supervisor) is ecstatic to be part of The Christmas Schooner tradition at Mercury Theater Chicago! This will be Serena’s 3rd show with Mercury, having previously worked on Hair and Dracula. An accomplished seamstress, she was tailoring jeans for NFL hall of famers Deion Sanders and Troy Aikman as Lead Tailor at ZipFit Denim within just two years of graduating with her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. However, her passion is in the theater! You can find her designing costumes at Actors Gymnasium (The Magnificent Wonder, Cursed Costumes, Another Castle, Secrets, Lies, and Super Spies) and previously at UrbanTheater (Lolita de Lares, Julia de Burgos: Child of Water), and Bravo Performing Arts Academy (Dogfight, Seussical, Xanadu).
RITA VREELAND* (Stage Manager) is sailing her seventh 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 four-year-old Charlie. Happy Holidays and thank you for supporting live theatre!
ANDREW WATERS (Assistant Choreographer) is thrilled to be back at Mercury Theater Chicago working with this wonderful artistic team and cast. He most recently collaborated on the creation of Music Theatre International’s new School Edition of West Side Story as well as choreographed the production. He also had the pure delight of assisting Brenda Didier on this season’s successful productions of Mary Poppins and Hair at Mercury Theater Chicago. Other Mercury productions include The Addams Family, The Color Purple, and Barnum. Andrew has been a freelance choreographer of over 60 productions and has been a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association for 26 years. He would like to thank you and your family for supporting live theater and this holiday favorite.