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 Nov. 28, 2014
Trying to get the choir back for one final performance is a task of immense difficulty, but four of the ladies provide enough laughs to make any holiday Merry. In Tandem stages "A Cudahy Caroler Christmas" for the last time and it's sad to see them go.
Published Nov. 27, 2014
There was a lot to be thankful for ths past year, but thanks also can be given for things that might happen in the next year. Call them wishes or hopes, but thanks are still deserved.
Published Nov. 25, 2014
It's the time of year when we all try to figure out what it is we are thankful for and sometimes it's hard to make a decision. But in the world of sports there are a lot of gifts that we get and we should hold hands and say thank you for players, teams and owners.
Published Nov. 24, 2014
Hard to imagine, but four college chums go through all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in just under two hours. It's a laugh-filled romp onstage at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre that has frat party mixed with the Three Stooges as models.
Published Nov. 23, 2014
"The Wizard of Oz" on stage at the Skylight is a warm and wonderful journey into the Emerald City and beyond. The search for the wizard who can get Dorothy home and a heart, courage and brain for her three friends gets a creative treatment good for the holiday season.
Published Nov. 22, 2014
A 70-year-old play about an imaginary six-foot rabbit delivers laughs, but it also is a lesson about how important friendship really is and how loyalty must withstand every single challenge. There is nothing quite like the friendship between Elwood P. Dowd and his best friend, Harvey the Pooka.
Published Nov. 20, 2014
Scott Walker has until Feb. 19 to decide whether to approve a casino in Kenosha. But that facility would clearly have an impact on Milwaukee's Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, and that would certainly be an added hardship for hundreds of charities in the city.
Published Nov. 18, 2014
In the 121st meeting between the two programs, fireworks are the rule, rather than the exception between the Wisconsin Badgers and Marquette Golden Eagles.
Published Nov. 16, 2014
"Frankenstein" has all of the intensity and drama you'd expect from the creation of a monster, but the pace is relentless and that can wear you out. It would have been helpful to have a little bit of room to breathe and sit back in your seat.
Published Nov. 15, 2014
A. J. Gurney's play is supposed to poke fun at the rich, big business and big religion, but it falls apart in an avalanche of trite liberal talking points. Next Act deserves and normally delivers much better.