And best performance by an infant goes to ...

Opinion: John Rice

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

I skipped the Academy Awards because I had already witnessed the greatest performance of 2017. It didn't receive an Oscar because it was a straight-to-video production. I'm talking about my grandson, John Henry Callaghan and his portrayal of Baby Jesus at a Christmas Eve service.

John Henry was a newcomer to acting, having been born on Nov. 6, 2017. My daughter, Nicole, and her husband, Bill, attend Parkview Christian Church. The Mokena-based megachurch sent out a casting call for babies born between September and December. 

John Henry made the cut and immediately reported for dress rehearsal. It didn't go well. As John Henry's cries filled the sanctuary, his 2-year-old brother, Will, was mortified, murmuring, "No baby, no baby." It was disturbing but showed John Henry had the vocal range to reach folks in the balcony. Plus, there's an old show biz adage: the worse the dress rehearsal goes, the better opening night will be.

When we got to Parkview, we were pleased that John Henry would be playing to a packed house. The sanctuary holds 1,700 and every seat was filled. The service got off to a rousing start when the band broke into "Thunderstruck" the raucous AC/DC anthem that leads off White Sox games. They had "Christmatized" the lyrics, but the screaming guitars, thunderous drums and flashing light show overwhelmed my senses.

If I was suffering sensory overload, how could our 1-month-old actor handle it? Ninety-year-old great-grandmother Maxine Callaghan knew the song pleased the South Side congregation but didn't think it was reverent.

By the time John Henry was ready to take the stage, reverence had descended on the congregation. They watched a video of a boy hauling a Radio Flyer full of lights, handing them out to neighbors and strangers. Then the boy and his wagon joined the musicians on stage. They sang, "A light has come!" as John Henry was placed in the manger. Even a seasoned actor would have trouble making an entrance after that kind of build-up. 

Pastor Tim Harlow gently lifted John Henry from the manger. As the congregation caught sight of him, there was a collective "Awww!" My wife and the other grandpa, Bill Callaghan, burst into tears. 

Pastor Tim cradled John Henry and held a candle while he led the congregation in "Silent Night." John Henry was wearing a white blanket, gazing beatifically at the candle. Pastor Tim's football hold and the proximity of the candle worried me. I hoped John Henry wouldn't be doing his own stunts. 

I was amazed at his performance, though — a South Side Irishman convincingly playing a Middle Eastern baby, without makeup or swaddling clothes! He also kept his concentration when a baby began wailing. Then he folded his little hands, as if in prayer, his face bathed by candlelight. Finally, he crossed his arms and went to sleep. Like the real Baby Jesus, no crying did he make. 

I immediately wanted to be his manager. However, Nicole was already his "Mama-ger" so she'll be getting the 10 percent. She said that John Henry stayed backstage during the service, watching the monitor, waiting for his cue. She prepared him for his performance by feeding him, changing his diaper and giving him a pacifier. A born pro, John Henry did not need the pacifier.

It figures that John Henry would be a star at an early age. The late patriarch of the Callaghan clan, William Sr., had worked as an extra in Hollywood films. 

John Henry definitely has show biz in his veins. But did his career peak too soon? After playing Jesus, his next role might be a letdown.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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