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James Pickering will not play Scrooge this holiday season.
James Pickering will not play Scrooge this holiday season.

A new Scrooge

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…

There's nothing else on.
There's nothing else on.

Stuck with the beautiful game

It's Thursday afternoon and I'm doing some serious work with the television on right at the corner of my desk.

I could be watching CNN for all the news about the Supreme Court decision upholding President Obama's health care plan.

I could be watching Tiger Woods play the Congressional Country Club (which I've played) in the PGA tournament.

I could be watching Wimbledon or a replay of a Milwaukee Mustangs game (although that's not really on the list).

But I find myself watching Germany play Italy in the semi-final of the EuroCup '12 soccer tournament.

Soccer. I hate soccer.

But here I sit, rooting for the Italians, none of whom I know, against the Germans, none of whom I know.

I hate to actually say this but there is something beautiful about watching this game.

The Optimist Theatre's "Shakepeare in the Park" offers free theater this summer.
The Optimist Theatre's "Shakepeare in the Park" offers free theater this summer.

A role in "Macbeth"

I am currently in rehearsals for "Macbeth," the newest production in the wonderful free Shakespeare in the Park program staged by Optimist Theatre.

The production opens Thursday at Alverno College and some of Milwaukee's finest actors are in the production that has been skillfully directed by Ron Scot Fry.

James Pickering, Marti Gobel and Tom Reed are all wonderful actors who star in "Macbeth" along with many of the best young actors in the city.

The performances are all outside on the campus and it promises to be an enchanting evening of theater, watching a couple where one embodies treachery and the other goes mad.

Information can be obtained by calling Optimist at (262) 498-5777 or go here. The play will run June 21-24 and June 28-July 1.

By the way, I play Old Siward, the "oldest and greatest warrior in all Christendom."

Downtown will remain Silk-free.
Downtown will remain Silk-free. (Photo:

Downtown strip club gets nixed

I really want to gather all those fun-loving knuckleheads on the Milwaukee Common Council and start banging their heads together, hoping to knock some common sense into them.

As I predicted, the council has unanimously turned down the application for a strip club Downtown. They all agreed with the pleas from "Downtown businesses" that the club would "hurt development efforts."

I don't see how the development efforts could get much worse. Downtown Milwaukee is a ghost town after dark. There is nothing going on. The council gives licenses with ease to quirky restaurants that come and go like the 5:40 to Savannah, never stopping long enough to pick up passengers.

But a strip club? Sixteen jobs, not counting strippers? Lots of tax revenue? A place where all those conventions we are going to get some day can send their members for recreation?

Right now when a convention comes to town and they list things for them to do after dark the range runs from dinner somewhere to dessert somewhere. Any live music downtown? Any great bars? ANY STRIP CLUBS?

Jeez. This kind of attitude is just what keeps Milwaukee stuck in second gear. I understand old fogeys (like me) refusing to try something different. But where is the cry from the next generation of leaders who might think that a strip club is really not Sodom or Gomorrah?

Somebody actually trotted out the "objectify women" argument at the hearing on the bill.

Unfortunately, I don't think they were kidding. You know what they say, "Ignorance is temporary, but stupid is forever."