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 much a part of Milwaukee as the Allen-Bradley clock, Bradford Beach and the racing sausages.
How any organization could make an announcement like this and forget to mention, or intentionally not mention, an institution like Pickering is totally beyond me. And it leaves me with an uneasy feeling in my gut.
The very word from which the Rep derives its name. "Repertory" means a theater company with resident actors who do a series of different plays during a season. I hope that mission continues. When I think of Jonathan Gillard Daley and Laura Gordon and Lee Ernst I get a comfortable sense of well being in the Milwaukee theater community.
I wonder why the change from Pickering to somebody – anybody – else is being made. I wish their marketing director had called me back to confirm it. But I have my suspicions.
After 450 times I'd be willing to bet that Pickering's performance last Christmas season was unmatched.
Actors are always searching for emotional and intellectual "stuff" that they can use to help them define and develop a role. Pickering's wife, Rose, died during rehearsals of "A Christmas Carol" last year and I'd guess that gave him more than enough "stuff" and ended up with a performance that he felt he could never match again.
My understanding is that Pickering made his own decision to retire from the show. I respect him for taking this step and am grateful that he will continue to act in Milwaukee.
This new guy may well be a great Scrooge. But without Pickering in the role, everyone who goes to enjoy the richness of the play and the theater will find it just a bit more spare and shabby without a Scrooge we have come to know so well.
I am wonder what Mr. Begel being in a show with Mr. Pickering has to do with his opinion of the man? Why does that matter...he's not asking you to vote for Mr. Pickering. He's giving you his opinion about another actor, an actor he has in fact worked with. Making him may be a little more than qualified to have the opinion. David Begel does not control casting at the Rep so how is this a problem with journalistic integrity?
If I recall correctly, although Mr. Pickering did it more often in the last few years, Lee Ernst and Jonathan Daly played Scrooge as well? It's not as if he played it for 20 years straight. Perhaps that would be a different story.
Also, there seem to be very few theaters who use the word "repertory" in their title who employ a full-time resident acting company. In fact, I can't think of one. But Milwaukee Rep's resident actors haven't gone anywhere, have they? I have seen them in almost every production over the last few years.
I understand that this is a blog, and an op-ed piece of sorts, but don't you think it would have been relevant information to your readers that you are currently acting in a show with Mr. Pickering? In the interest of full disclosure and journalistic integrity?
2 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published July 29, 2014
You shouldn't have to drive half a day to play golf. You shouldn't have to take out a loan. You shouldn't have to lose an entire day of your life. With those thoughts in mind I've compiled a list of fun and challenging golf courses within a one hour drive from Milwaukee where you can play a course that demands some skill, provides some challenge and lets you walk away with enough money to take your wife out to lunch.
Published July 24, 2014
Let's not overreact to Dave & Carole's incendiary and absurd comments on the arts in Milwaukee on Wednesday. After all, by very definition radio hosts are interested in just one thing, ratings. Whatever it takes, get ratings.
Published July 22, 2014
The "Big Four" sports leagues in this country are increasingly expanding their brand and their reach, which draws interest and players from around the world. As a result, fewer Americans are finding roster spots (outside of football). Pro golf, tennis and soccer bypassed the U.S. long ago. So, are American athletes soft? Do they not have what it takes anymore to reach the top of their profession?
Published July 17, 2014
It might be possible for me to count on the fingers of one hand the times I've actually been proud of a politician. Once more I find I'm proud of a politician, in this case County Executive Chris Abele. Even though I don't agree with all his decisions, he provided a moment that will forever be burned in my memory.
Published July 15, 2014
In Wisconsin, we have the world class American Players Theatre, called by many the best in the country. The Illinois Shakespeare Festival is moving in that direction, and with a gorgeous space on gorgeous grounds, an easy three-hour drive for Milwaukee Shakespeare fans would be a worthy summer trip.
Published July 15, 2014
Nothing is more exciting than a division race in basball. It can last for weeks. Every single game is crucial. Every play seems crucial. It is the ultimate agony and ecstasy of sports. And there is a profound role for those of us who are fans to play in a pennant race.
Published July 11, 2014
There is something about watching people just like us begin to unravel and shrink into desperation and desolation that demands our attention. That's the attraction of "God of Carnage," the Yasmina Reza play serving as the first production of the new Umbrella Group.
Published July 10, 2014
Across nearly 70 years, the Agatha Christie play "And Then There Were None" has become one of those old chestnuts, performed by high school and college drama clubs throughout the world. To say that it's a tired play is a massive understatement. But a sparkling new production that opened at The Peninsula Players Wednesday night and runs through July 27 proves that even the oldest of chestnuts can be reborn if all the pieces fit.
Published July 10, 2014
It's the middle of the summer in Milwaukee and frivolity is on the minds of most people around here, with the exception of a small group of political operatives and the governor of our state.
Published July 8, 2014
The world of professional sports is crazy over big salaries. But I wondered where the craziest people lived? So I went to math class and discovered that the NBA and MLB were the two leagues that have lost its collective mind.