Every day is Christmas for pianist Jim McDonough, and that’s just fine with him.
“It’s a labor of love for sure,” the Steinway artist said just days away from launching his 15th annual Holiday Grande touring extravaganza. “We’re working like Santa’s elves, but loving this time of year.”
Even when it’s Christmas in July.
“I guess I don’t really think that much of it — about it being 100 degrees outside and I may be listening to ‘White Christmas’ or working on an arrangement of any holiday favorite,” he said. “It’s a project that you just have to prepare for months out, and the weather doesn’t always align with the content of what you’re working on.”
This year’s tour begins Friday (11/24) in DeWitt and continues through Dec. 16 in Cedar Falls, with a stop at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 10.
Audiences will just have to wait to see what McDonough has in store for them, but he said the entire year has been a celebration of the Monticello native’s touring milestone.
“It’s a new show every year,” said McDonough, 43, who now lives in Cedar Rapids. He promises lots of nostalgia, with moments reminiscent of a Dean Martin holiday special.
He’ll be joined onstage by a holly jolly 14-piece orchestra, four singers and six dancers. All of their equipment rolls from city to city on a 53-foot semi “filled with holiday cheer,” he noted, as well as rolling racks of costumes, large percussion instruments and scenery that’s built in sections for ease of transport, setup and teardown. The performers carpool to the various venues, as far away as Des Moines and Ottumwa.
“Folks who attend the show will have some experiences that are very familiar — things that they have come to expect,” he said. Something new this year is a “Nutcracker” moment. “It’s just beautiful,” he said, and incorporates the dancers, choreographed by Michelle Philgreen of Manchester, as well as the orchestra, conducted by Kevin Brown of North Liberty, and McDonough on piano.
Rounding out the production team are orchestrator Steve Shanley, vocal director Cameron Sullenberger, associate producer Tim Caster and technical director/lighting designer Aharon Moody, all of Cedar Rapids.
One tradition that will continue is turning audience requests into a glittering ornament.
“I have a lot of fun and the audience enjoys it,” he said. “I never know what they’re going to ask for. I ask them to come armed with a favorite song to call out, and I swirl all of those requests into an on-the-spot medley.”
That grew out of the years he spent entertaining on cruise ships, from 2000 to 2002.
He would ask the listeners for requests, and soon realized he was playing many of the same songs from night to night.
“It was a collection of songs that a lot of people really love to hear,” he said, including works from the Great American Songbook, Broadway and movie favorites. “Just beautiful melodies,” he said, “songs that really resonate with people.”
So he turned those requests into a CD, aptly titled “Requests,” which he sold on the ships. “It was enough of a success, that when I moved off the ships, I recorded a Christmas CD,” he said.
He gave a concert in his hometown right after Thanksgiving that year, and even though it wasn’t Christmas-themed, he credits it with kicking off the idea for a holiday concert tour.
And as always, after all the bills are paid, the rest of the proceeds will be donated to Camp Courageous near Monticello, a year-round respite and care facility designed for people of all ages, who have disabilities. McDonough declined to say how much he’s been able to give over the years, but said, “It’s always a very nice donation.”
He’s committed to the cause.
“It’s a positive project to not only take the message of Christmas to Iowa’s most beautiful venues, but also the message of Camp Courageous,” he said. “It’s so rewarding to know how many people we’ve introduced Camp Courageous to. It’s been a very rewarding thing over the years.”
WHAT: Jim McDonough’s Holiday Grande tour
DEWITT: 7 p.m. Friday (11/24), Central DeWitt Performing Arts Center, 519 E. 11th St.; $34, Cd-pac.org
OTTUMWA: 2:30 p.m. Saturday (11/25), Bridge View Center Theatre, 102 Church St.; $29 to $45, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com
DES MOINES: 2:30 p.m. Sunday (11/26), Hoyt Sherman Place, 1501 Woodland Ave.; $29 to $45, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com
ANAMOSA: 7 p.m. Dec. 2, Ellen Kennedy Fine Arts Center, Anamosa High School, 209 Sadie St.; $35, (319) 462-6181 or Lawrence Community Center
MONTICELLO: 2:30 p.m. Dec. 3, Monticello High School Auditorium, 850 E. Oak St.; $35, 1-(800) 375-7095 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
DUBUQUE: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, Five Flags Theatre, 405 Main St.; $29 to $45, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com
CEDAR RAPIDS: 2:30 p.m. Dec. 10, Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE; $29 to $45, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com
CEDAR FALLS: 2:30 p.m. Dec. 16, Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, 8392 University Ave.; $29 to $45, Gbpac.com
PROCEEDS: Benefit Camp Courageous, Monticello