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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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In Music Blogs

A group of Canadian businessmen sing "Sweet Caroline" at the Newsroom Pub.

No more karaoke for theater's favorite hangout?


This is not your average karaoke, a night filled to the brim with slightly overserved men and women living out fantasies of being crooners, rock stars, country warblers and hardcore rappers.

Many of these singers have had professional voice training. Most of them have been on stage many times and they know how to act the part. Generally they choose songs they know are in their sweet zone. And when not singing, they love to get up and dance.

And it may all come to an end soon unless something dramatic (pun intended) happens.

We could very well be without the stirring experience of seeing one of Milwaukee's very best actors, Matt Daniels, complete with fedora and bandana scarf, posing and moving as he sings "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, complete with French lyrics.

The wonderful Wednesday night of karaoke may end soon for Robbie Ellicson, who runs Spinn Doctors and has been making momentary stars since 2001 at the Newsroom Pub on Wells St. just across from the Pabst Theatre and the Milwaukee Rep.

"I used to have a comedy night here and then went to karaoke in August of 2001," Ellicson said before what may have been his final engagement at the pub. "I think I missed a night for my honeymoon, but not many times other than that. It's been great with all these theater people coming in."

Ellicson is a fourth generation entertainer. His dad is a drummer, his grandmother had a big band orchestra and his great grandfather rode the back of a truck selling medicine and all kinds of show acts. He's great at karaoke, letting the singers be the stars as he tries to keep some order to the affair. Way too many karaoke hosts use it as a forum for them to show off their vocal chops. Not Ellicson.

Rick Pendzich, who is one of the breed of young actors making their mark in Milwaukee, was in the group that started coming to the pub back in 2006.

"There was a bunch of us who came in," Pendzich said. "All of us were in the theater and almost all of us had voice training. Plus we got the interns from the Rep who were right across the street."

The parade of stars who have stepped on the stage includes Robert Goulet, Night Ranger, Darius Rucker, the Goo Goo Dolls, Brian McKnight, Def Leppard, Frankie J and country singer Shelly Wright.

The Newsroom Pub is owned by, and connected to, The Safe House, the legendary Milwaukee bar and restaurant that could well be one of the top five tourist attractions in the city. Many of the patrons of the Safe House come into the pub to look at the impressive collection of plaques signed with chalk on small blackboards.

The signers include famous names like Theodore Roosevelt, Williams Jennings Bryan, Babe Ruth, Gene Autry, Stan Musial, Tony Bennett, and hundreds more.

Last Wednesday night a bunch of business people from Canada wandered into the bar from the Safe House. It wasn't long before a group of the guys got up and delivered a slightly off-key but enthusiastic rendition of "Sweet Caroline." The local actors jumped up and frantically danced in front of the business group.

The reason that Ellicson and his show may leave is, like most of these things, money.

The Safe House wants to renegotiate its deal with Ellicson. He is resisting. It's an old story.

But the two sides aren't far apart, at least on dollars, They may be further apart on appreciation and value of sentimentality.

I love karaoke. Back in 1968 a friend of mine, Tom Shepard, owned a bar called JJD's on Downer Avenue. He called one night and asked me to come and see this new attraction he had.

It was a guy with a collection of cassette tapes. He put them in a tape recorder and ran it through a speaker. Then he handed you a microphone and a sheet of paper with the lyrics on it. I did "Jamaica Farewell" by Harry Belafonte, complete with what I thought was a Caribbean accent. For all I know it might have been the first karaoke in Milwaukee.

While not being the first, Wednesday night at the Newsroom Pub may well be the best karaoke in town. It would be a crying shame if it came to an end because the two negotiators couldn't reach an agreement.


Talkbacks

Photodavie | Jan. 25, 2013 at 7:38 a.m. (report)

" The Safe House, the legendary Milwaukee bar and restaurant that could well be one of the top five tourist attractions in the city." I cannot live in a city where the Safe House would be concidered a top 5 tourrist attraction. Just sad.

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