'The Big Voice' speaks volumes to audiences
By: Elizabeth M. Holder
It's amazing how you can find someone, that significant other, in the most unlikely of circumstances. Who could have known that a Roman Catholic boy from Brooklyn and a Baptist boy from Arkansas would one day meet on a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean?
Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin never anticipated their chance meeting, their eventual life partnership and the creation of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" But now they definitely have an inspirational life together and an astounding show that everyone should see in Tucson while they still can.
Where some two-person shows may feature one actor and use the other to play a supporting role, this musical equally showcases two talented actors and their unique life experiences.
Brochu and Schalchlin effortlessly wear the hats of many other minor characters in the lives of the two men, from childhood through adulthood. They began their lives wanting to help others by being spiritual leaders, a priest and a preacher. But they discovered their true calling was to serve others through the arts.
Where mainstream religion chastises people who are different, they are able to speak to those same people and build newfound hope. Growing up, they thought they would save souls from behind the pulpit. Now, they know they are saving lives in the theater through the shows they produce.
Eventually, the audience learns that their lives are forever changed when Schalchlin is diagnosed with a serious illness. Their experience proves that no matter how much despair and turmoil you may receive from adverse circumstances, there is always a way to gain empowerment through it.
Longingly waiting for the "Big Voice" to speak to them, only the passing of time for these gentlemen shows if that greatly anticipated heavenly revelation or divine moment comes from God, Ethel Merman or both. The duo's powerful acting, singing and stage presence fill the small Invisible Theatre effortlessly. It is hard to believe even two exceptionally talented men could have written this humorous, evocative and moving show on top of their already stunning merits.
A comedic musical, Brochu and Schalchlin demonstrate great skill while executing their physical and verbal humor that keeps the audience in stitches. The audience could be heard continuously laughing out loud, and, on more than one occasion, enthusiastic applause filled the house.
First Time Here?
WATCH Steve's amazing perfomance at the World Domination Summit.
CELEBRATE WITH Jim & Steve at the Metropolitan Room in New York City, Jan. 15.
At 7pm,SING ALONG with Steve Schalchlin and the Bonus Round Band performing TALES FROM THE BONUS ROUND, featuring Bill Goffi and Stephen Elkins. Plus, Jim and Steve singing "How Do You Fall Back In Love?"
At 8, POWER SCHMOOZE. (Jim knows everyone in show biz. You don't know who might show up).
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Sure, we know life is a cabaret. But with Ethel Merman? Hers is not the first name to come sailing out of the wings when we think of that popular musical.
Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin sing and dance to a different drummer, however. When Brochu starts singing, his eyes light up, he spreads his arms and a distinctly Ethel Mermanish sound comes out.
He is not imitating her. He is living her - the pure joy and over-the-top enthusiasm of someone who doesn't really exist unless he's performing. Schalchlin is equally eager to be an entertainer. He just isn't that crazy about Merman. Brochu figures nobody's perfect.
Life being the cabaret it is, Brochu and Schalchlin were made for each other. The story of their journey together is the story of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" a heartfelt musical comedy that becomes endearing because it feels so honest.
This show is their autobiography, opening Invisible Theatre's 37th season with a refreshing generosity of spirit. Both men are accomplished and confident performers. One story in "The Big Voice" relives the moment when Brochu has his caricature formally hung alongside all the other theater luminaries at Sardi's Broadway restaurant.
There are plenty of differences between the two men. Brochu is heavyset. Schalchlin is slender. Brochu is Brooklyn-born and Catholic. Schalchlin is a Southern boy who grew up in the Baptist church.
Right away we know this won't be your typical musical revue because right away both men start singing about the similarities between show business and religion. As college students, both considered entering the ministry. Brochu still hasn't outgrown this thing for wanting to dress up like a bishop. It's only natural (so to speak) he would think that when God sings, the voice is Ethel Merman.
What the show is about, really, is the magic of being in love. Who can't identify with that?
Out of nowhere you meet someone purely by chance, feel those sparkly tingles, begin to think "What if?" Then like a dream unfolding, one glowing moment leads to another as this unexpected meeting becomes a friendship that develops the real muscle of a relationship and becomes . . . a full-blown musical comedy with all the jokes and stage lighting.
You always thought your own life would make a good novel? Well, Brochu and Schalchlin are thinking Broadway instead of print.
Act One describes their playfulness and defines how much they actually are alike. It makes you appreciate how difficult domestic life can be for someone who loves to sing like Ethel Merman in the shower every morning. Act Two gets serious when Schalchlin is diagnosed with "it," the disease so terminal nobody wants to say its name. What follows is the couple's struggle to decide which sacrifices are worth making and which simply aren't.
A happy ending? Have you ever seen a musical comedy that didn't have a happy ending? Well, yes, "Cabaret" doesn't have a happy ending, but "The Big Voice" will have you wanting to hold hands with someone as you leave the theater.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Love as Salvation
Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin share their hilarious and touching story at Invisible Theatre
By JAMES REEL
Love as Salvation
Now, here's a real odd couple. Jim is an extroverted Brooklyn Catholic who, as a boy, dreamed of becoming pope, mainly because he liked the clothes. Steve is an introverted Arkansas Baptist who, as a boy, toyed with the idea of evangelism until he learned that queers aren't welcome at the seminary, even if they never stray far from the closet.
Jim grew up going to Broadway shows starring the likes of Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. Steve once saw a dinner-theater production featuring Bob Crane.
Jim and Steve meet on a cruise--in the Bermuda Triangle, aboard the sister ship of the Andrea Doria. Surely, the relationship has about as much of a chance of success as Ethel Merman did when she tried to sing quietly.
It was Merman, actually, who turned Jim's interest from the papacy to show business; upon Jim's first childhood visit to Broadway, to see Merman in Gypsy, he realized that the theater "was like church, but with energy." Yet Jim, like Steve, never quite gave up on the idea of salvation. All they had to do was figure out how to achieve it without the dubious help of organized religion.
Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin recount their story themselves in The Big Voice: God or Merman?, a mixture of songs, zingers, tall tales and emotional candor now playing at the Invisible Theatre. It's a love story both hilarious and touching, though not without crises, and it keeps an audience engaged even though it's obvious that everything will turn out all right.
Including Steve's struggle, since 1994, with AIDS. I mean, the guy is standing right there, thin but full of quiet vitality, so there's not much suspense about his fate. Did he succumb during a hospital crisis a decade ago? Um, obviously not. Did the unpleasant new personality he got as a side effect of his medication destroy his relationship with Jim? Well, Jim's standing right there, too, so they're probably OK together now.
So the show isn't so much about what happens in the end as what happens along the way. Even so, that question in the title--God or Merman?--always dangles over the proceedings, almost forgotten in the second half, but demanding an answer by the final curtain. And an answer, it gets, a satisfying one that isn't at all contrived.
The Big Voice is subtitled "a musical comedy in two lives," and it could only be pulled off through the collaboration of two utterly dissimilar people. Brochu, who wrote the script, does most but by no means all of the talking, regaling the audience with ridiculous, endearing stories about how as a child, he wanted more than anything a record of Pope Pius XII singing Gregorian chant, or how he broke into television being cast in commercials as a dancing raisin and a lemon from outer space. "Within a month," he declares, "I was known as one of the most dependable fruits in show business."
Schalchlin wrote the music and most of the lyrics, and he seems more comfortable sitting behind his electric piano, telling his own story in song. He employs the generic ballad style common in small musicals these days, pleasant enough but not as individual. Schalchlin's most memorable songs are a well-constructed piece about a childhood encounter with a flashy evangelist, and a duet with Brochu in which they puzzle out how to put their shattered relationship back together again.
Schalchlin has the better voice of the two; Brochu's is more, well, Mermanesque, but, unlike Ethel, he doesn't settle for a dull stand-and-deliver routine. He acts every phrase, and all in all, his style is that of a barely restrained Zero Mostel. (As a matter of fact, Brochu is about to open his one-man show about Mostel, Zero Hour, on Broadway, and Invisible Theatre is presenting a single, sneak-preview benefit performance of the show at 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7; tickets for that will cost $35.)
Ultimately, Jim and Steve don't really have to choose between God and Merman. In many ways, religion and show business are the same thing, and not just in the crass ways that quickly come to mind. Whether or not Jim and Steve love Jesus, as the Baptists back in Steve's hometown would insist is necessary, they love each other. And that's the best foundation there is for salvation on this earthly plane.
Happily, my folks are still alive and I'm ready to make me some more chicken gumbo.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Go here to read about the moment and learn how a calm, respectful and reasonable voice can override and trump the loud and angry every single time.
It's a lesson I continually need to learn. If you don't have Jim's Box Turtle Bulletin bookmarked, do so today. His peaceful and calm voice, along with his exhaustively researched entries, are a lesson for all of us no matter which side of this debate you fall on.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Announcing the good news! The Big Voice: God or Merman? has now been officially licensed and published by Samuel French. You can order your own copy of the script directly from them by going to this page. And if you're a producer and you want to produce The Big Voice in your theater, you can license the play, find a couple of middle aged prima donnas who've been wanting to play romantic leads, and put the show up in your own home town.
But something funny happened during the show -- so funny (and sweet, really) that I thought I was going to fall off the stage laughing. And worse, it was during a moment in the show where I couldn't laugh. So, I had to totally contain it without cracking so much as a smile -- and had to wait until we got to the dressing room. It came from a comment that popped out of the mouth of an audience member -- and I had no idea if Jim heard it. We couldn't look at each other and we couldn't do anything.
So, here it is -- and I hope it translates:
First of all, the audiences here much older than we are used to. I think it's because Tucson has many retirement communities -- and senior folks love to go to theatre. So, the Invisible Theatre has reaped the benefits of this population. (And more power to them).
The folks come in groups many times so they know each other and they make for a looser audience. Very responsive. We've played to full houses, and they've VERY reactive to the show. It's so good to hear all the wonderful laughter coming from the other side of the lights.
But they also tend to talk back now and then, which we don't mind at all. Jim loves the interaction and is really good at playing with them if they talk out loud.
However, since they are older than we are, they don't always know exactly where we're going with the show. In act two, as any of you who've seen the show know, we delve into the drama of my living with AIDS. But we slide into it gradually before we say the word "AIDS."
So, last night, I was crossing to stage right, saying my lines, after setting up the fact that we were moving to Los Angeles, "Well, it was the right move to make. We had two great cats."
Jimmy says, "Nothing could go wrong."
And then I cough (as a signal that I'm coming down with AIDS-related pneumonia). This moment always stops the show into dead silence as people take it as a sign that something has gone wrong.
When, out of blue, clear as a bell, we hear someone say, with absolute sincerity:
"He's allergic to the cats."
I thought I would come unglued. It was so unexpected. Most audiences we've played to are kind of expecting the whole AIDS thing to pop up since we mention it in our bios, etc. or they've read the reviews. But if you're older and you haven't really read anything about the show, it's natural that your mind might not go there.
Now, I can NOT stop the show at that point. I mean THIS is the point where it's all about AIDS! This is the most deadly serious moment of the play. I don't know how I maintained my poise. But I didn't crack a smile. But INSIDE I was laughing so hard, I could barely stand. And all I wanted to do was stop the show, run over to Jim and shout, "DID YOU HEAR THAT???"
So, we moved on to the hospital scene, the break-up, the reconciliation, then the end of the show.
When we got to the dressing room, we both looked at each other and just BURST out laughing into each others' arms.
God, I love live theatre. There's nothing like it. I couldn't stop laughing the rest of the day.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
'Big Voice' is theater with big heart and funny tales
By Kathleen Allen
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.23.2007
Salvation can come in many forms: the Bible, J.D. Salinger, Bach, the Dalai Lama — you name it.
For Jim Brochu, it came in the form of belter Ethel Merman.
The story is told in hilarious detail in "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" now playing at Invisible Theatre.
This is theater with a big, big heart and funny, funny tales. Brochu and his partner, Steve Schalchlin, have made it easy to embrace this musical about growing up, falling in love with the theater and each other, and struggling to make their love deep and lasting.
Schalchlin is responsible for the often lovely, lively tunes and tender lyrics in the show, Brochu for the play.
But it is the two of them together who pour their hearts out and make the stories real and relatable.
The bio-play traces their very different boyhoods — Brochu grew up in Brooklyn, where he learned math from "The Price is Right" and optimism from "Queen for a Day." But mostly he dreamed of being the first Brooklyn-born pope.
Schalchlin grew up in Arkansas, the son of a Baptist minister. He longed to make music his life, and to step out of the closet with pride. Both would be hard for him.
The two met on a cruise — Schalchlin played the piano, Brochu flirted and fell in love.
And together they created and blossomed and went through painful times.
Schalchlin's songs capture the melancholy, the joy and the sorrows of relationships and growing up.
"How Do You Fall Back in Love?" is a tear-jerker of a duet with lyrics like "How do you reconnect what's disconnected / Unsay things you never meant."
And they detail the spiritual quests and questions the men go through. "Sometimes When I Pray" is a poignant song that questions whether there's a God to hear the prayers and ends with the words of a grandmother on her death bed: "If God has hands, they're your hands. If God has eyes, they're your eyes."
There's nothing preachy, or overly goosey and sentimental about "The Big Voice." Rather, it's a warm, compelling piece told and sung well by men who haven't a false bone in their bodies.
As they say, if you can fake sincerity, you got it made!
Saturday, September 22, 2007
In 1986, just after Jim and I met, I made a trip back home to Buna and brought a video camera along. It was one of the first things I ever shot. With my mother in tow, we cruised around Buna. The tape was locked away in a cabinet for a long time. Finally, last month, we transferred the VHS tape to a digital file. I've edited the footage and have uploaded it to YouTube in six parts. Here is part one:
Jeff & J.D.
J.D. is one of the nicest persons I know. I send him my most ardent sympathy for his (our) loss. And thank you, J.D., for the personal message you gave me this morning involving "When You Care." I'm honored that the song means so very much to you.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Meanwhile, here is Tucson:
Monday, September 17, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
Our first article has appeared. Stay tuned for some very fun videos. First, Jimmy sets up a radio interview by.. well, let's just say it has something to do with Kathy Griffin. Then, Steve meets some very interesting people aboard the ship and one of them presents him with a challenge. Do I meet the challenge? Stay tuned!