Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Actor brings Zero Mostel back to life for an 'Hour' : North County Times - Californian


Jim Brochu will never forget the first time he saw actor Zero Mostel. It was an experience so overwhelming and remarkable that he had little choice but to remember it.

"I went to see 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,' which he starred in," recalled Brochu. "I was in high school and I was a protege of actor David Burns, who was also in the show. Zero burst through the curtain and I slammed back into my seat like the chair had accelerated at 100 miles per hour."

After the show, Brochu went backstage to meet up with Burns, and ran straight into Mostel, who was dripping with sweat from the exertion of doing the show full-throttle. Brochu, who attended a military school, was in full uniform and Mostel nicknamed him "General Nuisance."

"I told him I was going to visit David and he complained, 'Why don't you come visit me?' So I did," he said. "He told me to come again and I took him at his word, and wherever he went, I would go backstage to see him."

Brochu saw Mostel perform his legendary "Fiddler on the Roof," getting the last ticket available.

"Zero greeted us afterward," he said, "and it was magic. The way he could work the front row of a show was something else. Later when I became a professional actor, I ran into him at 50th and Broadway, and I asked him for a signed picture. He told me I wasn't worthy ---- he was a very odd man. But he came to my next show, and the next week, I received a manila envelope with his signed picture in it saying he liked my performance."

At the age of 23, Brochu read a review of his work that mentioned he should portray Mostel in a show. "I'm physically like him," he said, "and people say I'm as obnoxious as him." But he knew he was way too young.

For many years, he performed in theater, movies and television, including "All My Children," "The Young and the Restless," "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and "Sirota's Court." He has played stages all over the country as well as acting the role of the dancing raisin in a Post Raisin Bran commercial. His caricature is on the wall of the famous New York City theater hangout, Sardi's.

He is also a published playwright, including "The Lucky O'Learys" starring Helen Hunt and Kathleen Freeman, as well as "The Lady of the House" starring Rue McClanahan.

As the years rolled along, he knew he could finally get down to the business of telling Mostel's story. At 61, he was at the age when Mostel died. He first turned to his good friend Piper Laurie ("Carrie" and "The Hustler") to direct the show. Laurie had been friends with Mostel, so her knowledge proved invaluable. The play is set up as the last interview that Mostel did before his death, while doing a painting (Mostel loved to paint) which Brochu gives away after the show. "Zero Hour" is that one-man show, which has already been optioned to go to Broadway.

Brochu found Mostel's life story inspiring.

"He had so many obstacles to overcome," he said. "He grew up poor on the Lower East side. He married a Christian woman, and his family disowned him. He was blacklisted in Hollywood. He was hit by a bus and almost lost his leg. In the end, he triumphed. The play sounds serious, but it's also extremely funny."

The show won numerous Dramalogue and Ovation Awards, including those for the show and his performance.

"Zero was outrageous and very funny," he said. "I want the audience to see that, and that whatever obstacles you have, with love and friends you can get through. That's why he did."

"Zero Hour"

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Poway Center for the Performing Arts, 1548 Espola Road, Poway

Tickets: $39, general; $5 for ages 18 and under

Info: (858) 748-0505

Web: www.powayarts.org


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