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Our new “Hometown Girl”

McCarthyWe at The Arcada Theatre have been fortunate enough to bring celebrities on a regular basis to St. Charles, many times being selected over venues in Chicago proper. Superstars, too many to count, appear on our stage regularly, performing their wonderful shows, further drawing attention to the wonders of the Fox Valley.

In August of last year, the celebrity “buzz” was a bit different in downtown St. Charles, though. Jenny McCarthy, the former Playboy centerfold, television star, author and activist wed her internationally famous fiancé, actor and original New Kids on the Block member Donnie Wahlberg at the Hotel Baker, also in downtown St. Charles. The couple became so enamored with the area that they not only married in St. Charles, they also moved there to begin their new lives together.

Jenny has had a very busy career since she was a 19-year-old Miss October 1993 for Playboy. She was selected Playmate of the Year (preceded by Anna Nicole Smith) and her television career took off, starring on various shows on MTV. After a number of TV and movie appearances, Jenny became a favorite of Barbara Walters, who had her on the show “The View” for 17 guest appearances. She was so popular that the show formally asked her to join its regular lineup of hosts.

After almost a year as one of the provocative conversationalists on the show, she left to pursue other opportunities, one being a radio show called “Dirty, Sexy Funny.” She hosted it with other female standup comics and became wildly popular, so much so that Jenny decided to take the show on the road.

She was to do a national tour hitting all the major markets. New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas … she hit them all. But when it came to performing in the Windy City, Jenny personally called me to ask if she could bring it to her new hometown since had heard so much about our 1926 vaudeville theatre and its rise to national renown.

I couldn’t have jumped at the chance quickly enough! I met with her agent in Nashville to make the deal. We sat in a restaurant in Music Row and talked about the show. “What does she do?” I asked. “She hosts the show with three professional female standup comediennes. They touch on everything girls talk about on a girls’ night out … I mean everything,” he said.

“That’s good enough for me,” I said.

So I put it on sale, really not knowing what to expect. Most of the stuff we do involves Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, so I usually know how the sales will play out. But this? Well, I would just have to go on my gut.

We sold out the show in just a few hours! So I called the agent and we decided to try a second show the night before. That wound up selling out, too!

The day of the first show finally came, and we were extremely excited! The buzz that was present when she was married in St. Charles returned, as countless welcoming gifts began arriving at the theater. Flowers, baskets, even an all-organic box of gluten-free foods was dropped off! There were quite a few October 1993 editions of Playboy also piling up along with requests to autograph them. Not the usual rock-star rider we are used to!

But to be honest, I had a slight concern. There were a few “industry” comments made to me that suggested Jenny was a bit less than “cordial.” But this, I had to experience for myself.

It was time for her sound check, and we were awaiting her arrival. All of a sudden she burst onto the stage, ready for business. I immediately went backstage to introduce myself. She saw me and literally came running up to me. “Ronnnnnnnn,” she yelled. “Thank you so much for having me, I am sooooo excited! I have been wanting to play here forever,” she said. She looked me up on the internet and saw my picture, that’s how she knew who I was. Did she do her homework or what?

Whoa! SHE was excited?

So she rehearsed her show,and directed the others. You could see that she is a very smart lady. Detail after detail, she managed with pure professionalism.

As the day progressed, her childhood friends and members of her family began to show up. She has deep Chicago roots: a Catholic girl born in Evergreen Park. Her brother is a Chicago police officer and her family lives here. The true friendships ran deep, you could tell. And they were all sincerely happy for her, as if she had just began her career.

Her mom and sisters came, even her dad sold her T-shirts. They were all so sincere, very humbled at the experience. Here is a girl who has appeared with huge names on TV and in movies, but they were humbled to be at The Arcada!

Being incredibly intrigued by her, I watched her closely all day, something that wasn’t hard to do! Every fan she met, she gave a warm hug to, took their cell phone from them and did an all-inclusive “selfie” with! She made everyone feel so special. I looked at her tour manager and said, “That is why she is so successful. She gives back to the fans in a sincere way that I rarely see celebs do. She REALLY loves her fans!”

Barbara Eden, the iconic star of television’s “I Dream Of Jeannie,” was performing at The Arcada the next night. She was in town the night of Jenny’s show, so I sat her right up front. She doubled over in laughter all night! I brought her down to meet Jenny, and the two were humbled by each other’s presence. The photo I took with these two beauties from different generations was very cool and one I will treasure always.

The audiences were a combination of “established” Jenny McCarthy fans mixed with locals who just wanted to see what she was all about. The show? After all, it IS called “Jenny McCarthy’s Dirty, Sexy, Funny.” And if I had three words to describe it, those three words would be the ones I would use. It was a hilarious retrospective of the plight of the female!

I was so pleased to see that the Midwest roots of this Playboy supermodel turned television superstar had never left her. I was endeared to her after talking to her about her book on parenting and her efforts to raise money and awareness about autism. I was met with a warm hug by her son, 12-year-old Evan, who is faced with the challenge of autism.

For months, I was excited to meet a drop dead gorgeous Playboy Centerfold of the Year in a show titled, “Dirty, Sexy, Funny.” When my “Backstage With … “ finally happened, it wasn’t what I had expected. She wound up being almost sisterly to me. Her sincerity was impressive, her sense of family as strong as I have ever seen any celeb to exhibit. Yes, Jenny McCarthy “bared all” to me that day, but what I had found was that Jenny was as beautiful inside as she was outside.

About Ron Onesti

Ron Onesti is the CEO and president of Onesti Entertainment Corp. For the past three decades, he has produced Chicago's most popular Italian festivals, and also owns the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Producing more than 200 live concerts each year, Ron has worked with some of music's most loved entertainers. Frankie Valli, Mickey Rooney, Connie Francis, and Jersey Boys, as well as stars Joan Rivers, Bret Michaels, and Don Rickles, have all graced the stage of the Arcada Theatre. He is a gourmet cook and journalist, writing a weekly column for the Daily Herald and hosting his own show on WGN. Ron lives in Wood Dale with his wife, Elena, and their daughter, Giuliana.

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