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Fort Wayne Civic Theatre Kicks Off Holiday Season with The Christmas Schooner


There are a multitude of familiar and beloved Christmas plays, films, and television shows, each one eagerly anticipated each year. But as the Hallmark Channel has well established over the years, those anxious to celebrate the holidays are always looking for something new, something fresh. For many The Christmas Schooner is that fresh way to explore the meaning of the holiday. Relatively new – debuting in Chicago 25 years ago – The Christmas Schooner has never been produced on Broadway and has no film version in the works. But it has become a touching reminder for audiences who have seen it that there is much to say about Christmas outside of presents and decorations.

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre is bringing The Christmas Schooner to the city this month, offering a unique take on a holiday that is often glitz and glamor. Directing the production is David Belew, a member of the Civic’s committee to choose each season’s plays. He said that the heart of the show is what made him want to direct it.

“It’s a story about family, not just the one you’re born into but the one you create,” Belew said. “It’s about those relationships you form. It’s heartwarming and funny. It’s all the things you want in a holiday show. There are 13 in the cast, and every person is featured in some way. There’s no chorus where people are just part of the ensemble. Everyone gets a chance to be featured.”

The show is described by in the Civic’s season brochure as a “timely and stirring tale of love and loss,” and it provides a recap of the story itself.

“Based on the historic Great Lakes voyages during the late 1800's and early 1900's, The Christmas Schooner tells the true story of a Michigan shipping captain who braves the deadly winter weather to bring Christmas trees to homesick German-American families in turn-of-the-century Chicago. His voyages become a yearly tradition, despite his wife's misgivings – until a fateful voyage makes her realize the true importance of his mission.”


The Christmas Schooner (Adam Fletcher, Scenic Designer)


Given its holiday theme and touching message, it is somewhat surprising that the show is not as well-known as many seasonal classics.

“It’s never been a big national thing,” Belew said. “It’s never been on Broadway. It started out in Chicago in 1995, and I don’t think people know about it or have discovered it yet. But it became big in that area and has continued to grow in popularity.”

Although a cast of 13 is relatively small for a full-scale musical, Belew said there are some challenges in directing The Christmas Schooner.

“Almost every person in the show is on the stage the whole time,” he said. “So I have to watch everyone more and keep tying that all together.’

The music is all original though Belew said that there are some familiar carols and hymns during transitions which add to the holiday spirit.

“I would say it has a very Americana feel to it,” he said. “It’s not a traditional musical, and even though it’s set in the late 1800s, it has a great deal of modernity to it.”

Belew is certain that Fort Wayne audiences will enjoy this piece of Christmas theatre which is somewhat unknown to many fans of both holiday and musical productions.

“I was surprised at the sense of humor it has, much of which is missing in traditional Christmas pieces. It’s sweet and heartwarming like many Christmas shows, but I don’t think a lot of them have the sense of humor. I think people will be touched by what they see in this show.”

The Christmas Schooner runs November 6-21. Visit fwcivic.org for more information on showtimes and tickets.

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