If Milwaukee has a leading man it is undoubtedly James Pickering, an actor of immense talent and experience and commitment to the Milwaukee community.
He and his wife, Rose, who died last year, were the first couple of Milwaukee theater, providing thousands of fans with memorable performances that helped to establish the Milwaukee Rep as a top flight regional theater company.
Pickering was most famous, perhaps, for his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Rep's annual production of "A Christmas Carol" that transformed The Pabst Theater into a witch's brew of holiday fear and cheer.
Thousands and thousands of fans, from young children to grandparents made going to the Pabst for the production an annual tradition. The play introduced many young children to their first experience with live theater.
And no actor was more identified with the play that Pickering.
It's against that background that I was so shocked to get a press release from the Rep announcing that a New York actor named Christopher Donahue will play the role of Scrooge in the 2012 production.
Now, I have nothing against Donahue, who has a lengthy resume of classical roles in regional theaters around the country and a few television appearances. He may well be a fine actor.
But there was no mention in the press release of why The Rep was making the change from the familiarity and love we all had for Pickering to this unknown quantity. The item from the Rep did the one thing you never want to do in a press release – it raised more questions than it answered.
I understand the marketing department and its director, Lisa Fulton, who hasn't returned my call, wanting to focus on the upcoming season. They aren't going to sell tickets for what happened last season. It is only this season that matters, according to all the proven marketing techniques.
But Pickering has been Scrooge for 450 performances. Four hundred and fifty. It's not as if he dropped in for a cameo and then left town. His Scrooge is as…Read more...