The Big Voice: God or Merman? is an Entertaining and Entirely Beguiling Evening of Musical Theatre
by Richard Connema
Steven Schalchlin and Jim Brochu have finally brought their charming and hilarious The Big Voice: God or Merman? to San Francisco. I first saw the show at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival on a rainy night in Manhattan and I thought it would be perfect for our city by the bay.
The Big Voice: God or Merman? is entertaining full houses at the Decker Theatre in the New Conservatory Theatre Center through August 19th. This fast-paced comedy is full of indisputable zingers, with Steve and Jim telling their stories with self-belittling humor. Jim Brochu tells of how as a staunch Catholic growing up in the Bronx he wanted to become a Pope but found out later he was better suited to being like Ethel Merman. The audience learns how Steve Schalchlin grew up in a small Arkansas town with strong minded, God-fearing Baptist parents; students at the redneck high school called him a faggot. However, there also is a certain amount of humor in his telling of these stories.
Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin met on the cruise ship Galileo (the sister ship of the Andrea Dora) in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Steve was playing piano in the Fantasy Lounge, and the story of their meeting is hilarious. Things become more serious when Steve discovers he has developed AIDS. He thinks of suicide until Jim gets him out of his negative feelings. The pair go on to write a musical, The Last Session, in 1997 which becomes an Off-Broadway success.
These are two very talented men who keep the audience entertained for two hours and five minutes. They talk about the sacred and therapeutic powers of their lives in the showbiz world. Their words are inspirational not only for homosexuals but for anyone who has had problems with identity. This is a totally entertaining show.
Most of the fourteen songs by Steve Schalchlin with additional lyrics by Marie Cain are wonderfully diverse and contemporary. Steve is very moving when singing "Where is God?" after he has been diagnosed with AIDS in 1994. The two sum up their comical courtship with the melodious ballad "Near You," which is beautifully performed.
The Big Voice: God or Merman?plays at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco through August 26th. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org.