The Oak Creek Performing Arts & Education Center hosted a special performance on December 15 by Milwaukee-native and Emmy Award-winning comedian John McGivern.
“John McGivern’s Home for the Holidays” is another heartwarming blend of storytelling and personal reflection, with performances ending on December 17. McGivern’s unique ability to evoke a sense of nostalgia, blend it with humor and moments of heartfelt reflection, continues to showcase his talent for expressing the essence of the holiday spirit.
“I’m excited to share a different approach with some of the old stories, and then talk about all the new stuff that I’ve been doing,” McGivern told Milwaukee Independent. “For example, when I performed with the Wisconsin Philharmonic Orchestra – for the second time, I saw some man turn to his wife. I could tell what he was saying … which was ‘What is he doing here?’ So I said to him, ‘I’m just as surprised as you are that I’m here.'”
At the beginning of McGivern’s December 15 show, he shared highlights of his life over the past year. Like when he got a call from a private number. It turned out to be from the Governor’s office, asking if he could fill in for Tony Evers to give the State of the State of Tourism at the governor’s conference in March. Or another story about how he explored the German bunkers at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France with the memories of his father’s World War 2 experiences.
Longtime theatrical partner Edward Morgan directed “John McGivern’s Home for the Holidays.” The two have worked together more than a couple dozen times over the past two decades. Morgan said that they both just trust the artistic process, and feed off of each other’s creative energy. He was also excited about a new feature for this holiday show.
“We’re including a couple of musical numbers with the Oak Creek High School Jazz Band. In the First Act, John reads an essay he wrote with the OCHS rhythm section underscoring him,” Morgan said. “Then at the top of Act Two, he’s playing guitar and singing two songs, one with the whole band and one with the rhythm section. That’s really different for him, and it’s been fun for everyone involved.”
Morgan said that for this performance series, he enjoyed the challenge of staging the show in a 1,000-seat theatre. Because the band was positioned upstage of the curtain, only the apron – the part of a stage that extends past into the audience area – could be used for most of the show.
“So each act begins with the musical numbers, then we close the curtain and lower a big screen. Those projected images become the stage’s main design elements,” added Morgan. “We haven’t done a holiday performance like that before.”
“John McGivern’s Home for the Holidays” weaves together a tapestry of stories that celebrate the joys, sorrows, and simple pleasures in life. McGivern’s performances always give audience members an experience filled with laughter, tears, and a deep sense of community. People find a common thread in his stories, regardless of where they come from.
One of the main characters of many McGivern memories has been his mother, Joan Clare, who passed away on April 2, 2020, at the age of 92.
“The holidays have been different without my mother, but still so much the same. It wasn’t like my Mom went through some long period of deterioration. She was sharp as a tack and pretty healthy, and then she died,” McGivern said. “There are still so many things I think about telling my mom, then I remember mom is not here anymore.”
Along with a lifetime of memories, McGivern’s mom also left behind many of her belongings. He talks in the show about how she got hooked on collectibles from the Bradford Exchange, which is why her Holy Creche Nativity set somehow includes a fourth Wiseman figurine.
“I joke about how Bradford Exchange must have really ripped off my mom, to sell her an extra Wiseman,” said McGivern. “I’m glad hearing that makes people laugh. I miss my mom, terribly.”
McGivern’s plans for 2024 include the third season of his show “John McGivern’s Main Streets,” which was recently renewed. His team is still in the process of planning where the show will travel to, but he expects to begin shooting in May. The new season would start broadcasting in October.
“One of the stories I tell about the year was that I got this other phone call,” added McGivern. “This time it was a number that I recognized, but they hadn’t called me in three and a half years. It was Milwaukee PBS coming back to the table with a new general manager who didn’t want to talk about the past – but wanted to talk about the future.
After the peculiar absence – when “John McGivern’s Main Streets” was broadcast in 27 markets but not in the city where he lived, a McGivern show is once again playing on his hometown PBS station.
Milwaukee Independent has reported on many of McGivern’s holiday performances over the years, producing photo essays of not only live shows but also the extensive rehearsal process. This collection of images features the technical run-through and opening night of McGivern’s first show on December 15 at the Oak Creek Performing Arts & Education Center.
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