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Just about the time that Malley Keelan decides it’s time to close the curtain on his annual Christmas show series, along comes a great reason to keep the holiday tradition alive.

Maybe it’s to fund meals at Matt Talbot Kitchen, or to help the People’s City Mission continue to provide temporary housing for the homeless, or to help the Food Bank of Lincoln in its ongoing quest to feed the hungry.

Those great community causes are among the work performed by over two dozen nonprofits that have received much-needed financial relief from loyal music-lovers who have supported the Keelan & Friends Christmas shows through a successful 30-year run.

New venue, new cause

How long it will continue into the future is anyone’s guess, but this much is certain: Show No. 31, aka the 30th anniversary show, will be held at 7:15 p.m. next Saturday, Dec. 22, and at a new venue - Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, 40th and C streets.

Overflow parking will be available at Butherus, Maser & Love funeral home, a block south of the church. The funeral home has been the show’s sponsor the past 15 years, contributing to production expenses.

“If people ask, ‘Is this the last one?’, I say, ‘I don’t know … I feel like I’m just getting the hang of it!’” joked Malley Keelan, the founder, music director, occasional singer soloist and affable host. “I love Christmastime. This has become our performers’ musical gift to the community.”

This year’s proceeds will go to Freed for Life, including Bridges to Hope and a prison ministry, which is the primary outreach program for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.

How it all began

The holiday shows started in 1988 at St. Francis Chapel, 1145 South St. After the building was sold, the series moved to a variety of churches, including Saint Paul United Methodist Church, Trinity United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, First-Plymouth Congregational Church, and most recently, Christ United Methodist Church.

Keelan’s son Michael and daughter Maggie were regulars for many years; his wife, Colette, continues to handle backstage management.

The concert series has attracted many top local and regional musicians and stage and media personalities over the last 30 years, including Ted Kooser, Mac McCune, Betsy Bobenhouse, Bill Kloefkorn, Lora Black, Leta Powell-Drake, the Rev. Dale Holt, Wilma Sundeen, the Abbott Piano Duo, Col. Gary Lamb (Ret.), and the U.S. Army Band. Former Lincoln Mayor Don Wesely has twice been a guest reader.

Loaded lineup this year

Award-winning actor and writer Pippa White, who presents one-woman shows through her personal theater outlet called “One’s Company,” returns to this year’s show as co-host and will offer a special reading.

Keelan directs the 30-member Holiday Concert Singers in seasonal carols and typically invites the audience to sing along.

Keelan says this year’s lineup of featured entertainers is one of the best yet, led by soloists Ellen Jewett, Dr. Ken Hoppmann, Sandy Van Pelt and Jim Kula.

Jewett – a gifted violinist whose mother, Jan Jewett, lives at Eastmont Towers in Lincoln – has performed in Europe, Japan, Africa, New Zealand, Canada and throughout the U.S. in major venues such as Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall and the Kennedy Center. For 11 years, she was a member of the prize-winning Audubon Quartet and has recorded on several labels.

Hoppmann, a newcomer to the Keelan series, is co-chair of humanities and director of music at Southeast Community College in Beatrice. An active classical concert pianist, he has appeared frequently as a soloist and collaborative pianist.

Accompanists for the concert will be musical staff of the church as well as flutist Carolyn Dow, who recently retired from the Lincoln City Libraries as its Polley Music Room director.

The show is being dedicated to the late Gil Savery, a veteran Journal Star editor, community activist and avid supporter of the Keelan shows. His daughter Pam will read one of the journalist’s essays about Christmas.

Savery passed away recently at the age of 101.

Admission lowered

To make attendance more affordable for all, and in recognition of the show’s 30th anniversary, Keelan said admission has been lowered this year to $10 per adult. Children ages 12 and under will be admitted for $2.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis. No tickets are sold in advance.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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