MILWAUKEE — Anthony Crivello is happy to be back home.
“I will give you a penultimate Milwaukee story,” said Crivello during a chat outside the Stackner Cabaret at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater where he is performing the one-man show, “McGuire.”
“It speaks of the fabric of what the city of Milwaukee is. I go to a ‘PDQ’ gas station on the south side and I went there one day for coffee and they said making a fresh pot, if you can be so kind and wait a minute. Coffee gets done and I go to the counter and the lady says, ‘That one’s free today because you had to wait five minutes’ I said to myself that is Milwaukee. Not only is that smart business, because now they have a lifelong customer but it speaks to the fabric of what people of Milwaukee are all about.”
Crivello, born and raised on Holton Street with family at the old Our Lady of Pompeii Parish, now lives in Los Angeles where it is easier to keep his acting career humming. He proudly talked about his exploits, back in the day, at Pio Nono High School that later merged into St. Thomas More, when it was still all male.
He spoke about the beginning of his acting career at St. Rita Catholic School and how it grew from there to high school productions, to Marquette University shows and civic productions at Milwaukee’s classic Sunset Playhouse. He moved onto a career of stage and screen work that garnered him a Tony award.
He talked about his Catholic education in Milwaukee and how it is a keystone of his life.
“I can go back to St. Rita grade school,” Crivello said, “I have fond memories of the nuns at St. Rita’s. Sr. Mary Pia, Sr. Mary Michael, Sr. Mary Michael was a stickler, Sr. Mary Paul, Sr. Maria, I could go on and on. The first play I ever did was a Cub Scout play at St. Rita. It was “Pocahontas and John Smith” and you are looking at Pocahontas. I did it on a dare and I wore a yarn wig and remember going up there and making everybody laugh. But that is where I got my start and led me to where I am today. Who knew?” Crivello chuckled.
It is appropriate Crivello has come home to play a famous Milwaukee guy. Al McGuire wasn’t an original Milwaukee guy and was very proud of his New York City heritage, but he ended up being “our” guy as he led Marquette University to the 1977 NCAA basketball championship and retiring with a 404-144 and .737 in his career that also included an NIT championship the year he snubbed the NCAA. He followed that coaching career with a stellar college basketball broadcasting career.
Crivello has the credibility to play McGuire. He was the captain of the cheerleading squad for the then Warriors during the 1974-75 season. He remembers Marquette All-American and later professional pro basketball star Jim Chones. Not just from Chones’ days at MU, but when Chones was an adversary for his Pio Nono squad and he tossed out names like “our star guard Tom Clark and our 6-6 center Richard Gray.”
He also fondly recalled Fr. Robert Novotny, who directed the young Crivello in the Thomas More production of “West Side Story.” Fr. Novotny instilled the skills it took to be the theatrical world.
“I said to myself, these are too hard to do, because it was so regimented,” Crivello said of his early training with Fr. Novotny “It is that dedication and professionalism that he and others gave me that kept me going and they are with me to this day. They were those early building blocks.
“They served me well.”
He also was in many of the productions at the all-girls schools such as St. Mary’s Academy and Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.
“I was one of the ‘go to guys’ in the local theater circles who jumped in to help out when casting was needed at the girls’ schools. We had a group of guys from Pio Nono and Marquette High and we were in many of the shows when they needed male cast members.”
The credits for Crivello range from the film “Independence Day” to HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” to TV appearances as guest star on “CSI: NY” to “Star Trek Voyager and “Frasier.” His stage appearances besides his Tony turn as the original Valentin in “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in 1993, include “Les Miserables and “Evita” among many acting and vocal performances.
He also portrayed “The Phantom” from opening night until the closing curtain of “The Phantom of the Opera” doing 2,300 performances during the shows six and a half year stint at the Venetian Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas.
The Marquette Diederich College of Communication Hall of Fame is another of Crivello’s credits. He is pictured on a special wall in Marquette’s Johnston Hall. In fact, it was in those halls and walls where Crivello, who credits many MU teachers such as Professor Emeritus Michael Price for their guidance.
“My sophomore year I was called on the carpet by one my Marquette advisers,” Crivello recalled, “and she said to me, ‘what are you planning on doing this year,’ and I was captain of the cheerleading squad my freshman year, ‘are you planning on cheerleading?’ and I said yeah, and she shook her head no. She said you are either an actor or a cheerleader, you can’t be both, and I look back on that, and I do understand that because they want full commitment. And I said first and foremost I am an actor. I also had advisors there, and this was in my freshman year and he said what are you going to do and I said what do you me and he said act, perform, teach and I said ideally I want to perform. And he said to me I think you got it, so go out there and do it.”
He said Marquette and St. Thomas More High School and Milwaukee have always thrown their arms open to him whenever he returns, whether working in the area of just visiting with friends and family. He will have contingencies of Madison and Chicago friends filling the seats of “McGuire” which is closing in on a sold out run scheduled to close March 19.
McGuire, the person and “McGuire” the show are collections of colorful quotes. There are flashbacks to many on-court victories. But there is much more to the show, “McGuire.”
“In this look at Al McGuire,” Crivello said, “What we bring out is a much more flushed out character, who has Achilles heels. Who has Irish-Catholic guilt. He isn’t perfect and we bring some of those things forward. It brings out the common man … he did things he was not proud of, but on the other side you have that man of benevolence, the father figure for all his basketball players and the man who always went the extra mile.”