BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince you that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.

I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- which is my way of describing how I feel having cheated death. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.

Last year, I turned 60 and I had a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City and playing the lead role in a staged reading of a play not written by myself. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve [SHACK-lin] and we're just getting started.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

All About Piper Laurie (and us).

Piper Laurie is profiled in this terrific article by Simi Horwitz in Backstage Magazine. I need to post this to the Zero Hour website, too.

Since I think of her as simply my friend, I keep forgetting that she's one of the world's greatest actresses. She really is. If you ever stumble across one of her movies while channel surfing, you just marvel at her presence.

Piper, at the age of 15, she lied her way into acting classes, and when she was signed to a studio contract, she was appalled at the fact their only interest was in picturing her as an empty headed bimbo with big tits who ate flowers and was princess-like delicate.

(Of course, all of us who love movies love those old images of her in the tight sweaters, looking lustily into the camera. They always painted her as being slightly other-worldly, but with big bazongas in a time when big bazongas were all the rage. What the studios wanted were variations of Marilyn Monroe, of course.)

It pissed her off so much, she tried for a juicy theater part, but was rejected because the producer felt it would ruin the play to, essentially, stick an empty-headed bimbo in the part. She says...
"I was devastated. I flew back to L.A. and decided I had to change the meaning of what Piper Laurie stood for."

Laurie's first major break—and she says she had to "fight for it"—was in a General Electric Theater drama, "The Road That Led Afar," "a beautiful script that someone had stolen for me," Laurie says. "The directors and producers would not meet with me. They said I was not an actress but a sexy bimbo. I pushed my agent to set up a meeting, and they finally did."

Laurie violated all the standards of the era by arriving for her audition with messy hair and no makeup. Indeed, she came dressed for the role—a young hillbilly—instead of sporting the high heels and white gloves that women almost always wore to auditions. "I said I had just come back from horseback riding and didn't have time to change," she recalls. "I put on quite a performance, and when I got home I got a call from my agent, who said the producers changed their mind and I got the part."
Next thing you know, she was making out with Paul Newman and nominated for an Academy Award for her work in "The Hustler."

There's something marvelous about her ability to be absolutely still in a scene. Her husky voice -- it was always husky, and even when they dolled her up in all that 50s movie star tight sweater babe splendor, when she said something, it laid heavy in the air.

But that's acting. In real life, she giggles.

Listening to her work with Jim was something I'll treasure always. She always seems to know how to zoom in on the truth of a scene.

The cool thing about "Zero Hour" is that people constantly tell us they forget they're watching a play. Even Don Myers, our stage manager, said, one night as Jim, in character, was going on about knowing certain dead actors, he thought to himself, "Is Jim old enough to have known those people?" completely forgetting it was just the play. It all feels so real. Like you're actually spending a couple of hours with Zero Mostel.

Jim has the natural qualities of the vaudevillian like Zero and Jim's mentor, David Burns. Piper seems to come from a more Actors Studio technique. (At least, that's how I perceived it. Jim has a natural talent that I don't think can be taught. He doesn't play Zero. He simply becomes Zero. Lynn Lane said she was never so nervous before a show, and was relieved that Jim really brought back her friend, Zero).

Madeleine Gilford, after watching Jim in "Zero Hour" in Norwich at the Spirit of Broadway Theatre, whispered in his ear, "You're a better actor than Zero." Jim would never say that about himself, of course.

The other night, another friend of Jim's sent him a list of things he remembered David Burns used to say while they all sat in Burns' dressing room after Forum. One of them was, "The kid's young, but he's got talent."


NOTE:
Piper and we became friends because she attended, and said she loved, "The Last Session" in Los Angeles, which featured Michele Mais, who's now on Broadway in "Rock of Ages," as Tryshia.

Speaking of that, I'm going to have a big announcement on Monday. We're going to issue a real press release, the whole nine yards.

Just mark down January 13.

7:00 pm

Theatre at St. Clement's.

Pets welcome.

Pay what you can at the door.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Larry Kramer's Life in the Bonus Round.

New York Magazine runs a terrific feature by Jesse Green, catching us up on the great, angry Larry Kramer, whose work is one of the reasons why I'm still alive today.
"...the AIDS work that made Kramer both a hero and a lightning rod for controversy, in particular his co-founding of Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1982 and, when that ended badly for him, his creation of ACT UP in 1987. Arguably, these organizations were responsible, in their good-cop-bad-cop way, for bringing drugs to market that now make it possible for millions of HIV-positive people to live reasonably normal lives. As a side effect, they also instigated a fundamental shift in the way the public participates in decisions about health policy and pharmaceutical research. His former archenemy, now friend, Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, divides American medicine broadly into two eras: “Before Larry and after Larry.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

SPL's Children of Hate Feature Carolyn Wagner from "William's Song".

Children of Hate, an article on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, features Carolyn Wagner, who I sang about in "William's Song," recently featured by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. I never knew any of this about Carolyn's background.

Taking on the Klan
One summer night in 1965, 12-year-old Carolyn Wagner watched as Klansmen bound a young black man to a tree in her father's field, accused him of violating the "sundown" rules in nearby Booneville, Ark., that forbade blacks from staying in town after dark, and lashed him a few times with a bullwhip as he cried out in pain and fear.

It was no different from beatings at other Klan gatherings her father had attended, but what happened next remains vivid in her memory: the Klansmen decided to tie the man to the railroad tracks below the pasture. When they were done, they ambled back to the field to discuss crops and politics. Wagner, a reluctant witness to her father's Klan meetings, couldn't stand it anymore. She stole down to the tracks, used a knife she kept in her boot to slash the rope that bound the man, and told him he could follow the tracks to Fort Smith, the nearest large town.

"That was a turning point," recalled Wagner, now 56 and living in Tulsa, Okla. "I felt like I had made a difference when I was able to cut that man free. I realized I can make a choice to be a passive observer or I can become involved to diminish the harm that they're doing. And that's what I did from that night on, and that's what I'm still doing."

And there's more! She was in Memphis when Martin Luther King was assassinated, after driving her father there to attend the Klan rally opposing King.
In April 1968, Wagner drove him to Memphis to take part in a Klan protest during the sanitation workers strike made famous by the appearance of Martin Luther King Jr. She was there when the civil rights leader was assassinated. In a Memphis newspaper, she read that the Department of Justice was planning a crackdown on the perpetrators of civil-rights era violence. After the assassination of Robert Kennedy two months later, Wagner, then 15, wrote a letter to the FBI accompanied by a list of names and addresses she'd copied from her father's Klan directory. She wanted to get them all arrested. "I included my dad on that list," she said.

Wagner, who used her maternal grandparents' home as the return address, never heard back from the FBI.

Carolyn is in bad health right now. So, everyone who reads this blog, please keep her in your thoughts. I'm so happy I have this moment to cherish, thanks to Teddy Witherington, Kathleen McGuire and the rest of the San Franciso Gay Men's Chorus:



And then, there's William's Song sung by the chorus:

The Brits Love Jim, Too!

http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/zerohour-rev.htm

Sometimes it is hard to believe that a writer can fit so much information into a play that lasts only 90 minutes plus interval. Jim Brochu, who also performs, has chosen as his subject a man who, like a cat, seemed to have nine lives - and every one of them worthy of elaboration on stage.

Brochu starts with the advantage that he manages to look and sound like Zero Mostel, effortlessly catching the quirky mannerisms and Jewish intonations of the comedian turned actor.

This is a performance of ironies. A play about an archetypal Jew is performed in a church. Add to that Mostel's most famous performance came in Mel Brooks' The Producers, an experience that its star hated from start to finish...

Jim Brochu paces the story well, gives his audience lots of laughs and then hits them in the solar plexus with the bad times. This solo show has already won awards out of town and deserves to augment them in New York.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Very Nice Christmas Present

http://www.onoffbroadway.com/2009/12/best-and-worst-in-2009-new-york-theater.html

The best solo shows included Will Ferrell in "You're Welcome America: A Final Evening with George W. Bush," Coleman Domingo in "A Boy and His Soul," Jim Brochu in "Zero Hour" and Carrie Fisher in "Wishful Drinking."

Best One-Person Shows:
1. Wishful Drinking (Roundabout Theatre Company)
2. You're Welcome America: A Final Evening with George W. Bush (Broadway)
3. A Boy and His Soul (Vineyard Theatre)
4. Humor Abuse (Manhattan Theatre Club)
5. Zero Hour (Theater at St. Clement's)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dear reader,

One of the difficult aspects of this blog is that whenever we do a new show, the blog becomes a bit of an extension of the production. A new review comes out. I post it. Or there's an event. So, it gets a little boring. Sorry.

Also, I go for long stretches of the day where I'm not connected to anything electronic. I'm not a Luddite. I know that private time, alone time, needs to carved out.

So, when I do finally sit down to write a blog entry, the time is short. And I don't know what's personal and what's not. For instance, when we get a great review, it's very PERSONAL to us. We are rejoicing.

But when one posts these things, it just looks like promotion.

Boring.

People have been asking me about my music. So, in case I forgot to mention it, mark Jan. 13, 7pm on your calendar. It'll be a "pay what you can" concert, with very special guests. So, everyone can afford it.

I haven't played an actual concert in New York in forever, not since the big Last Session night 11 years ago. We did Big Voice, but I haven't just sat in front of an audience, with a piano, in concert, since then. I'm going to make an official press release for after the new year. So, I don't want to discuss it too much here.

Speaking of Jim, he thought he looked bad in the sequence where he's telling the story of the blackout. That's bad editing on my part. You know, these video diaries are my hobby. Putting them together helps me think. And time is also my enemy on them. In fact, I mis-numbered "Snow Day," calling it 5 when it was 7.

Before every show, Jim has a ritual, like many professional stage actors. He arrives at least an hour early to the theater and just sits on the dark set. It gives him a chance to feel the room, power down, focus and prepare for two hours of being Zero Mostel.

He also walks the set, checking to make sure everything is exactly as it's supposed to be. It makes him feel safe.

In the video, Jeramy talks about how the first thing he, as stage manager, remembers to set is the glass of pencils.

That's because the other night it was in the wrong place. Jim got up to move to the pencils, didn't see them, got confused, lost his place in the script, and jumped two pages, which he then had to reinsert later because an "act two pay-off" needed the "act one set-up."

For the stage managers running lights and doing sound cues, this presented a problem because, once he doubled back to get the next pages, they had to flip back in their books, too, in case a cue was called for during those lines.

Also, a phone ring was imminent. They didn't know if he would find his way to the exact cue or not -- and since the call is an interruption of a stream of dialogue, hitting it too early could throw everything off.

So, every night, Jim comes out front and sits in the chair in the dark and thinks through the whole play. He thinks I made look like crazy ol' grandpa out on the front porch disturbing the kids, which is, by the way, a role he'd relish."

So, he was doing his pre-show meditation prep, the crew had finished early, we knew a blizzard was arriving. It was a rare moment of perfect calm. I grabbed the camera. You know you have a happy team when the crew comes early enough for moments like this to happen.

Today is matinee day. An Internet reader is coming to the matinee with her mom. Then, tonight, we're taking the crew to Sardi's for Christmas dinner (actor's menu, of course!).

Christmas Day, Jim has two shows, and then two shows Saturday, and one on Sunday.

Now, I'm gonna start planning "Living in the Bonus Round 2010."

What a great time for new year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mark Evanier Remembers Arnold Stang.

Arnold Stang died. He had one of the greatest voices ever committed to film or TV. It was both immediately identifiable, uneasily imitated, and always, always hilarious. A sadsack Daffy Duck.

Mark Evanier, whose blog is an essential, tells his story here.

He was a joy to work with. The only direction I gave him — the only direction you could give a guy like that — was, "Try to sound like Arnold Stang." He did so with ease, like he'd been doing it all his life and he was perfect. He was also gracious enough to record a message for my answering machine.

While I was recording with Arnold, Eddie Lawrence arrived. You may not know Eddie's name but he's a wonderful character actor and comedian who did a series of much-quoted records as "The Old Philosopher." His catch-phrase was, "Hey, is that's what bothering you, Bunky?" Anyway, he and Arnold were longtime pals, and when Arnold and I were done with his cartoon and he exited the booth, he and Eddie embraced.

Then Arnold looked him in the eye and sounding as serious as Arnold Stang could possibly sound, he pointed to me and said, "Eddie, don't give this young man any trouble. He's a fine director and you just do everything he says."

Eddie promised he would. That wasn't good enough for Arnold. He added, "If you give him any crap, I'll come back here and kick your ass." Then he handed me his pager number and said, "Remember...if he gets out of line, call me and I'll come back and kick his ass." This wasn't necessary but there was one moment when Eddie was giving me a little problem and I had to threaten, "I'll call Arnold." He immediately apologized and agreed to do it the way I wanted. The power of an Arnold Stang threat.

The notion of anyone being afraid of Arnold Stang is so wonderfully absurd. Thanks, Mark, for that story. Go to his site for videos and a sound clip.

Zero Hour in NY 7: Snow Day

Anticipating the first big snow storm of the season, we introduce Taylor and then spend time chatting on the stage of Zero Hour with the Jim Brochu and crew. Hilarious bits: Don teaching Steve how to do the pre-show announcements, and Jeramy imitating Jim answering the phone as Zero.



(Video is mislabeled "#5" but changing it is too much of a hassle, so it'll just have to stay as it is.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Good Day of Rest.

I don't think I left the bed all day long yesterday. I even called Mark Janas and told him, even though the streets had been cleared and transportation around the city was good, that I was going to, regretfully, miss the Salon last night.

Readers who expressed concern don't need to worry. This was all preventative. It was a case of me listening to my body. I have just learned, over the years, when I've pushed myself too hard -- and I had hit the wall. So, as we learned in our literature, I listened and I obeyed. It went against every impulse, of course. I would rather have been at the church and the Salon.

But, enough is enough. Opening this show has taken a big toll. Jim (and I) have been going from promotional event to promotional event, and though I tend to stay backstage during his performances (usually sleeping on the couch or reading a book), it's stressful and exhausting to be always on the go.

Steinbeck was particularly happy that I just cuddled up with him all day. I don't think he ever stopped purring. I love that cat so much.

And it paid off. Today I feel reinvigorated and rested.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Steve is Staying Home Today.

I never miss a "performance," but this morning Jim talked me into staying home. I was supposed to sing for the Sunday morning service at St. Clement's. But, last night, the snow storm hit just as we were leaving the theater after the evening performance.

Jim, however, will go on as Zero today.



When I wrote to Rev. DeChamplain, I simply told her that my immune system, as strong as I feel from day to day, just isn't up to this. I know. I played the AIDS card. I hate doing it. But I have come to respect the fact that I have limitations. I don't like it. Anyone who knows me knows I never turn down a chance to sing.

So, I'm staying warm, and I'm taking it very easy today.

Jim, however, will be at the theater. He will go on!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friends of Zero Mostel, a Panel Discussion.

If you're a theater lover, I think you will enjoy this stimulating discussion about Zero Mostel held at the Barnes & Noble book store at Lincoln Center in New York. So much theater history here, and frank talk about how Zero could be a very challenging person to work with, and to be around.

Famed lyricist of "Fiddler on the Roof," Sheldon Harnick, actress Frances Sternhagen, Lynn (Mrs. Burton) Lane, Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, Jim Brochu and host, Peter Filichia.








My Bangla Desh Friend.

Recently, a friend of mine from the web introduced me, cyberly, to a young man from Bangla Desh and it brought to mind an incident from my days of being the ship's pianist on the Galileo, where I met Jim.

On the ship, there were distinct classes of workers. At the top of the rung were the authoritarian Greek officers -- most of them despicable pigs, but some of whom were warm and beautiful human beings. (They also lived on the upper cabin floor.)

Down in the bowels of the ship were makeshift cabins where I, and the other entertainers (British) and casino crew (Italian) lived. My cabin consisted of four pieces of sheet metal, a bunkbed, a sink, and an overhead lighting fixture.

My one precious piece of civilization was my typewriter. Yes, kids, this back in the 1980s, when the "Internet" was barely even an idea in the mind of a sci fi writer. I would write journals and lyrics and whatever came into my mind.

So, all of us who worked on the ship were isolated from the outside world.

The ship itself was a microcosm of the world, but with all the 70 nationalities distributed, high to low, in distinct classes. The only two Americans were myself and the (also gay) Greek-American cruise director named George Francis.

(Since I was unaware of how to act in a class system, knowing only the Dolly Partont on the Johnny Carson Show, on meeting the queen. "I'd say howdy and shake'r hand!", it never occurred to me to think of this Bangla Desh young man, very dark skinned with features that reminded me of Indian, but less aquiline, as anything other than just another dude.)

But, he and the other Bangla Desh cabin stewards slept 8 to a room. The room consisted of two sets of bunkbeds with a sink. Barely enough room for the sink (situated door the door, and between the bunks. It looked like slave quarters.

As I got to know him, I learned that he had a sister to whom he sent his money, and to whom he wrote long letters. He told me he was Muslim. He was one of the most gentle persons I ever met, like the folks back home in Buna, Texas.

So, I gave him permission to sit alone in my room and write letters whenever I wasn't around. To just use the room as a getaway.

Well, it was like a revolutionary act. There's even a name for it: egalitarianism. I'm no better than you and you're not better than me. A person's a person. For me, it was also tied up in Americanism, a concept that has gotten a lot of abuse.

Oh, I was so "You're a worker! A worker should be respected." It's grass roots country thinking. Fairness. Equality. Respect. It's so basic, I can't grasp any other way of thinking.

Soon, the Italians, who previously only cursed and abused the cabin steward, were finding themselves with a little rebel on their hands, standing up for himself.

It's funny how different real life can be from what we're told it's supposed to be. Letting someone use your desk to write letters, when you're not using your room, is some kind of revolutionary act?

How great is that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tim Burton Rocks.

The look of this movie astonishes.

Tonight: I'm singing at Don't Tell Mama.

Tonight, I'm singing for an event called "Big Night Out Holiday Extravaganza!"

It starts at 8:30, though they suggest arriving at 8pm.

I'll be singing "My Thanksgiving Prayer."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More of Zero's Relatives.

I am preparing videos of the event at Barnes & Noble where friends of Zero talked about him, and about what he was like to live with and work with. It has taken a lot of time to do because, in a free discussion, there are a lot of sidetracks, and I'm trying to group together the subjects so that it's easier to watch.

Meanwhile, more of Zero's friends and family have been coming to see the show. And, much to Jim's delight and amazement, they are not only enjoying the play itself, but they leave with tears streaming down their faces, telling him that it's like being with Zero himself.

Anyway, back to editing this video. But we're thrilled that we're getting this kind of reception from the people who knew him best.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oh, Shaw.

David Staller, who produces The Shaw Project at the living monument to theatrical history, the storied Player's Club, which has Mark Twain's pool cue on the wall in the downstairs bar and pool room, laughed as he introduced the last two plays in the four-year series because these last two offerings -- two one-acts are hardly worthy of his efforts. But complete the series we must!

If I'm not mistaken, I believe he said George Bernard Shaw wrote 85 plays. Imagine that! I'm not even sure, sometimes, if I have 85 songs. (Of course, I tell myself it's much harder to squeeze a full play into a three minute song than to drag it out over three acts.)

The first one, The Gadfly, he explained, was based on some immensely popular potboiler about spies and Russia and cocktail parties and Bishops, and it, he explained, was written to help the author secure a stage copyright (?). Happily, it was as short as it was unintelligible, and the playing was hilarious. The Broadway actors (Jim Brochu, Mara Davi, Josh Griseti, Simon Jones, Sean Dugan, Victor Slezak, Donna Lynne Champlin) did it with verve and high camp -- Jim doing his faux-Maggie Smith impression as "the countess" who insists that subversive activity is so rife in the town that the only way to do anything in secret is to do it at a cocktail party at the top of one's voice.

This was followed by his last play, an unfinished piece called "Why She Would Not." Since we never would discover "why she would not," much less "what" she would not, David had five different playwrights write their own comic endings. (Playwrights Israel Horovitz, David Cote, Michael Feingold, Jeremy McCarter and Robert Simonson.)

The dining room/performance area was packed to the gills for this final show, and Jim felt very honored to have been asked to participate. We, the audience, cheered and jeered and played along. Then, once most everyone had gone away, we retreated to the bar area and looked around at the caricatures and paintings of all the old actors who have since long left us -- and I sat there wondering what it must have been like, a century ago, to hang out with Mark Twain and Edwin Booth.

When Jim was a young actor in the early 70s, this is where he met Jimmy Cagney, and introduced friends to Joan Crawford. Up in the parlor and the dining room, tall paintings of actors I've never heard, dressed out in their role-playing finest -- usually Shakespearean -- costume and almost seem to speak to each other, like a thespian Harry Potter novel.

The stories these walls could tell...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Meeting with the Vicar.

We huddled over at the well-worn baby grand piano stuffed behind the set of "Zero Hour."

There was overhead lighting, which made a little focused stream of light on her cheek, like tears streaming down her face.

I don't think I ever met with a "vicar" before. Is it capitalized? My image of a vicar comes from that British sitcom with Mrs. Bucket, pronounced, according to her, as "bouquet." He was the hapless one who couldn't get away from her constant need for attention.

And I recall old English movies would sometimes have a vicar.

Her name is Mitties. I accused her of being a plural. She's from Pasadena, California and her brother is an actor. She teaches at the seminary.

St. Clement's has a long and storied history as a theater, which I'm only now beginning to learn. Video blog to come!

I sang a lot of music for her, and she told me stories, and we talked about the various programs run by this little church, most of the programs of which are for the poor. The once a week bags of groceries, the free vet clinic, etc. All being done by this very small congregation.

I played "Connected" for her and she responded by telling me about her late husband, who she obviously dearly loved. Then she quoted some piece of Episcopal theology about all the saints joining together, both from her and from the afterlife.

And that was cool. I just write the songs, which, for me, are little stories. I don't try to analyze them. Or, I maybe I do, but only after they're written.

She is overjoyed that "Zero Hour" is there. She feels it delivers a powerful message about someone who survived a very dark time.

I sang and played songs from "New World Waking" and "The Last Session." I didn't really know what else to do. My songs tell my story so much better than mere words. She asked me to sing on a Sunday morning.

Plus, Jim and I will donate a night -- maybe even do a performance of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" -- in January as a benefit.

I just have to make sure he doesn't overdo it. Tonight, for instance, he's participating in The Shaw Project. The rehearsals start early in the day. (He's playing a man in one, and a woman in the other.)

Anyway, so many stories to tell. I love this vicar. Her full name is Mitties DeChamplain. How great is that?

But, for now, the big guy needs his coffee. (And you know how he feels about getting his coffee.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Gay City News on "Zero Hour"

The Gay City News posts a review/interview about Zero Hour.
In his superbly written “Zero Hour,” Jim Brochu gives a protean performance as that titanic theatrical force Zero Mostel (St. Clement's Theatre, 423 W. 46th St., through Jan. 31). From the first moment he turns to face the audience, there are gasps at the physical resemblance he’s concocted –– that Hirschfeld face, the explosive delivery, the clawing gestures –– with a wealth of laughs and some beautifully earned tears to follow. Among everything else Brochu accomplishes, it is also a sort of gay revenge –– this is a gay actor grabbing the juicy part of a straight man, instead of the usual other way around.

“It’s non-traditional casting,” he told me, “and you may quote me. I read this morning that Meredith Baxter came out, and there she was playing the mom of all time when it was really ‘Bridget loves Bernadette’!

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Zeroing In" from The Jewish Forward.

This is a very insightful review of "Zero Hour," from The Jewish Forward, by Gwen Orel.

The SFGMC did win an OUT Music Award.

Since I didn't hang around at the awards the other night, just to sheer exhaustion, I fear I overlooked the fact that the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus did win an OUT Music Award the other night, even if our one song didn't.

From Kathleen's blog:

SFGMC WINS 2009 OUTMusic Award!

The OUTMusic Awards were held in New York City on December 8, 2009. SFGMC won the award for Outstanding New Choral Song, for the song "We Looked To The Future," which is the opening track on our double CD set, Creating Harmony, featuring highlights from our 30th season (2008). The track was recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall on May 15, 2008, and features soloist Edward "Moose" Maravilla, along with the full chorus and the Community Women's Orchestra. The song, with lyrics taken from Thomas Jefferson's writings, was written by gay composer Steve Milloy, (pictured), who is a renowned composer, arranger, voice teacher and pianist, published by Oxford University Press and Yelton Rhodes Music. Steve allowed me to orchestrate the song for our concert, so it was a real team effort. To hear an excerpt of the song, visit: https://www.sfgmc.org/mediaplayer/index.html

SFGMC also received nominations for our 2009 recordings Tune In, Turn Up, Sing Out and A Few Licks, and for our 2008 DVD, U.S.S. Metaphor.
Congrats to us all!!

Yahoo for Yoo Hoo.

The Women Film Critics Circle has announced their 2009 awards for the best movies this year by and about women, and outstanding achievements by women, who get to be rarely honored historically, in the film world.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Gertrude Berg [Posthumous]: Yoo-Hoo Mrs.
Goldberg
: Aviva Kempner, director

It's about time someone acknowledged this well-loved, but not widely distributed film, Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg. Not only for reasons outlined in this NY Times article, but because it, like Zero Hour, spends extra time on the tragic story of Phillip Loeb. (This was purely a coincidence, by the way).

Zero Hour, for all its admitted Borscht Belt roots, still digs deep into Zero's pain and anger at the Blacklist. For him, it meant death. As dramatized in "The Front," in one of the greatest screen performances of all time Zero plays a character based on the death of Phillip Loeb.

(Only one reviewer made a note that "The Front" wasn't mentioned in "Zero Hour." But the truth is that Zero's character in The Front is based on Phillip Loeb. By just telling the story of Phillip Loeb, mentioning "The Front" would be redundant.)

(How I wish I had copies of Zero's paintings from this period. I have not seen many of his works. I don't even know where they are. Reader?)

Anyway, congratulations to our friend, Aviva. "Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" is a terrific yarn, an emotional thrill ride, about a real life historical character, Gertrude Berg, the most famous unknown woman you ever knew.

Zero Hour in NY 6: The Paintings.

Every night of Zero Hour, Jim paints a new painting. Each one will be offered for auction to charity. This new video tells the story. There is a special appearance by our new sex symbol, Jeramiah Peay (that's pronounced "pay").

Luckily, Jeramy is an actor. So, he's perfectly comfortable taking the spotlight away from me. I'm glad.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

DEC. 16 TLS Celebration is POSTPONED.

Because Amy Coleman has been unexpectedly called to Italy, our Dec. 16th celebration of The Last Session has been postponed. As soon as we have more info, I'll update you.

Zero Hour in NY 5: Bock & Harnick Salute.

Jim Brochu sings "If I Were A Rich Man" at a special tribute to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Mark Janas, musical director.

Zero Hour in NY 4: NY Times plus backstage.

The NY Times review arrives, plus a little backstage dressing room stuff with our stage manager team, Don and Jeramy.

OMA Awards.

We did not win the OUT Music Award last night, but it was fun to see several members of the SFGMC there. Like old family members.

Stephen Camarota, who sings Gabi's Song, which was nominated for OUT Musician of the Year, defined as music + activism. I don't mind the label, but I don't consider myself to be an activist of any kind. I have opinions about stuff, but I prefer to just be seen as a songwriter. Gabi's Song wasn't meant to do anything except tell a true story about a mom to took a tragedy and tried to do something about it.

This is a video of the smaller touring group of San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus with just piano, at the Santa Cruz First Congregational Church:






The show itself was terribly disorganized, so I left early, since it was getting late, and they insisted on using a dance DJ to keep the noise level high, even when it wasn't taping. Perhaps it's because I've gone to a lot of tapings in Hollywood, but it's never a good idea to provoke fake enthusiasm. The crowd would actually enjoy some down time to visit with friends between acts. Then, they have more energy that way when it's time to make noise for the cameras.

Still, there was some fantastic talent on that stage, in particular, a rocker woman named Toshi Reagan. She kicked ass. So did Athena Reich.

I'm sorry we didn't win, but I don't begrudge the winners.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

OUTmusic Awards on LOGO Tonight.

Tonight, I will be going to the OUTmusic Awards, which I understand will be broadcast on the LOGO network. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus recording of "Gabi's Song" is nominated in the category of Out Musician of the Year. If we win, I'll be accepting the award for them.

If your cable outlet carries LOGO, be sure to look for us!

A New Way to Attack AIDS?

My Friend, Michael Sugar, pointed me to this article about a possible new AIDS therapy, using stem cells to help the body fight off AIDS and other chronic illnesses.

UCLA researchers demonstrate that stem cells can be engineered to kill HIV

Innovative strategy could be effective against other chronic viral diseases

Researchers from the UCLA AIDS Institute and colleagues have for the first time demonstrated that human blood stem cells can be engineered into cells that can target and kill HIV-infected cells — a process that potentially could be used against a range of chronic viral diseases.
The study, published Dec. 7 in the-peer reviewed online journal PLoS ONE, provides proof-of-principle — that is, a demonstration of feasibility — that human stem cells can be engineered into the equivalent of a genetic vaccine.
"We have demonstrated in this proof-of-principle study that this type of approach can be used to engineer the human immune system, particularly the T-cell response, to specifically target HIV-infected cells," said lead investigator Scott G. Kitchen, assistant professor of medicine in the division of hematology and oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of the UCLA AIDS Institute. "These studies lay the foundation for further therapeutic development that involves restoring damaged or defective immune responses toward a variety of viruses that cause chronic disease, or even different types of tumors."

Time Out NY's Theatre Pick of the Week

Congrats to Jim. This week he's Time Out New York's Theatre Pick of the Week.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Edwin Booth's Bedroom & Rosemary Harris.


Jim & Steve with the great actress, Rosemary Harris, at the Player's Club Christmas Party.

Hey, for history buffs, last night we got a tour of Edwin Booth's bedroom. It's still in the exact same condition as the day he died. Even his slippers are by the bed. He was the greatest actor of his generation. His brother killed Abraham Lincoln.

The Players Club.

You can't believe this place. It's faded elegance is part of the fun. the staircases leading to the library, the room where Equity was born. It's all so foreign to me. So very far away from Arkansas and Texas, and yet, it feels warm and inviting.

The walls were filled with huge portraits of actors in their costumes.

If that doesn't tell you anything, we had dinner sitting at a small table with Rosemary Harris while Jim told stories of attending a "Pipe Night" where Jimmy Cagney sat with three other "Players" and talked for two hours to a room full of men. Women weren't allowed in except on one day a year: Shakespeare's birthday.

We've walked onto the set of Mad Men!

Next week, Jim is going to perform two roles in the Shaw Project, being produced by David Staller. Over the past year, they've performed every play written by Shaw. Every big Broadway star has done one of the readings. (They're done on chairs, holding scripts).

This is the last night. Shaw's last two plays, both unfinished.

In one, he'll be playing a woman.

I'll put up links and pictures, so check back later.
NOTE:
People keep asking me if Zero Hour is going to extend. My understanding is that it can't. That St. Clement's is simply not available. So, while we know Zero Hour has a future, we cannot guarantee people will be able to see it if they wait. I honestly suggest ordering as soon as possible.
Right now, I'm going to assume that this is all there is. That every day spent here is a day we won't get to repeat. But, then, that's what it means to live in the bonus round anyways, so nothing's changed.

But, last night, there at the historic Player's Club, we met Rosemary Harris, invited her to join us at our little table, and it was a magical Christmas present. What a beautiful woman! (Youngsters know her as Spider-Man's Aunt Mae in the movies.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Hosting Tonight in Norwich

Hey! I almost look like a big star in this story in the Norwich Bulletin.
The Spirit of Broadway has grown into one of the most sought after tickets in the professional theater community. Past guests have included Manhattan Association of Cabaret Artists award winners Julie Reyburn, Tom Andersen, Tim DiPasqua and Carolyn Montgomery, and recording artist, Kevin Wood. Other guests have included Tony Award and Pulitzer prize winner Sheldon Harnick, O’Neil Music Theater Conference Director Paulette Haupt, Broadway Veteran Madeline Guilford, former Associate Producer at Goodspeed Musicals, Sue Frost, and Mr. Jon Kimball, Artistic Director/Executive Producer of North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Guest host for the evening will be the award-winning composer, lyricist and vocalist, Mr. Steve Schalchlin, who together with Jim Brochu, wrote the off-Broadway productions of The Last Session and The Big Voice: God or Merman. He is currently the producer of Zero Hour which is playing at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in New York City. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including Best Musical Score, L.A, Drama Critics Circle 1997 and 2003 and the Best Musical L.A. Ovation Award in 2005. He will be making a return visit to the Spirit Awards as the MC and to provide part of the evening’s entertainment.
Well, I'm not the PRODUCER of Zero Hour. I'm just along for the ride, with the title of "artistic associate," which means making sure the star is being kept warm, happy and well fed -- my favorite job in the world.

It also means helping keep the Zero Hour website up to date, which is what I've just done, including new links to all the New York reviews. Speaking of which, we hear there's a big announcement coming from one of the major newspapers in the area next week.

Friday, December 04, 2009

David Burns & Zero Mostel at The Paley Center.

David Burns backstage during The Price at what is now the Richard Rodgers Theatre, then called the 46th Street Theatre.

Inside the Paley Center for Media, a television museum where there is a treasure trove of history. We were invited to see what kind of video they might have of Jimmy's two biggest stage heroes, David Burns and Zero Mostel. Zero is more famous because he did movies and television. But David Burns, while he appeared here and there on TV, made most of his public appearances on the stage. He was, by all accounts, the funniest second banana who ever lived.

Jim tells the story of David Merrick begging Davey to be in a show. Merrick, was, as "Zero" puts it in Zero Hour, "the meanest son of a bitch in the history of the American theatre."

David Burns was fearless, however. After telling Merrick twice to go f*** himself, Merrick finally called Burns into his office. David entered, stripped totally naked except for his socks and a cigar and stood there waiting for Merrick to pay him what David demanded.

He got it.

The treats this day were numerous.

First, they had a kinescope of Zero doing bits from his stand-up act in 1948! He was a janitor with 10 minutes on his own to clean up the office for Christmas. But what he does is daydream and improvise all over the set. It's just a remarkable piece of tape.

What made us jump, though, was seeing who it was produced by: Phillip Loeb. (If you see Zero Hour, you'll know why this matters. Loeb is a huge part of the play).

But the one that got me was the broadcast of "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production of "The Price," by Arthur Miller. Davey plays this old Jewish man who comes in to appraise, and then buy, a room full of old furniture and personal items. He won an Emmy for this performance.

Now, I've seen some of Burns' stuff, and, while he was definitely a funny guy, most of it seemed to be shtick. Jokes, routines, etc. While I enjoy these things, shtick is still shtick.

I was not prepared for this performance. David was in a scene with George C. Scott, who is no slouch in the acting department, but, by doing nothing but being fully present in the scene, it was as if the center of gravity had moved right to wherever he was standing.

I could see Scott trying every trick in the book to take the scene away, but all Burns had to do was simply open his mouth and say the words, and Scott was left looking like an acting student on his first day in class.

It was a stunning revelation to see David Burns doing what all great actors do when they're at the top of their game, which is nothing. You could see no wheels turning. Nothing except a fully lived flesh and blood character just taking every moment and breaking your heart into a thousand pieces. I was stunned.

The curator told us that so many of the early tapes of live television were just erased over and reused because tape was expensive back then. It's just devastating to think of the history that's been lost because of these kinds of practices. We think of networks as these hulking behemoths with endless pots of money.

But back then, it was you and me and the cat putting on a show.

Jim sat there watching Davy, tears streaming down his face. When Burns had dropped out of The Price due to an illness, they talked him into going back in. So, he called Jim over and Jim had the privilege of sitting there running lines with him as he rehearsed the script. He loved Davy with all his heart. It was Davy who made it possible for him to get backstage, hang out and meet all these great characters. Davy who recommended him for his first job at Surflight Summer Theater.

Jim with Davy Burns.

David Burns, Garson Kanin, Maureen Stapleton and Jim Brochu.

By the time we left the museum, we could hardly speak. But he had a show to do!

God, it's lovely being back in New York.

Finally! Opening Night Video of Zero Hour.

Hey! Did you hear the news? Jimmy opened in New York! Here is the video of what I saw and who I ran into that night. Be sure to look, TLS fans, for a guest appearance.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Two more Fantastic Reviews: Time Out & NY Post.

NY POST. THREE STARS.
The rumors of Zero Mostel's death have apparently been greatly exaggerated. At least, that's what you'll conclude after seeing "Zero Hour," the new one-person show about the bigger-than-life legend, who left us in 1977. "Zero Hour" does an excellent job of resisting caricatures and conveying Mostel's hidden depths. Thirty-two years after Mostel's untimely death, it's a pleasure to have him back on the boards.

TIME OUT NY. FOUR STARS.
By all accounts, however, Mostel blazed most brightly in live performance. So we owe Jim Brochu a debt of gratitude for Zero Hour, an extraordinary act of reincarnation that restores the outsize actor to us in all of his daunting dimensions.

Blogging World AIDS Day.

It was World AIDS Day yesterday and I didn't write up anything special since, well, every day is World AIDS Day for me. However, I got a Google alert that someone had collated a number of AIDS blogs together. And, sure enough, there I was right below Shawn Decker, my adopted AIDS son. I'm his blog daddy right in the NY Times Technology section.

Here is the page.

Hosting, Hosting. Singing. Writing.

It was a text message:

"Hey, what are you doing Saturday? Can you take a train up to Connecticut?"

It was Brett Bernardini, the artistic director of the Spirit of Broadway Theatre in Norwich. I called him back, standing out in front of St. Clement's.

"Hey, Brett. What's up?"

"We're doing the Spirit Awards again this year and I want to know if you can host."

I tried to think if there was anything going on besides Jim doing his show.

"I can probably get up there. Sure."

"Okay, great. I've written out a script, but you can rewrite it all you want.

"Great, Brett."

"Last year, Joe DiPietro did it and he kept making fun of the fact that I talk too much."

Joe DiPietro is a well known playwright. In fact, when Jim was producing at the El Portal in North Hollywood, the first production was "Over the River and Through the Woods" starring Joe Campanella and Carol Lawrence.

"How did he make fun of you?" (Brett has a great laugh and a wonderful sense of humor about himself).

"Every time I got up to speak, he held up a picture of a dog and said, 'This is my dog who's not getting to go for a walk.'"

I laughed. "Okay, Brett. Let me ask Jim to make sure, but I think I can make it."

So, on Saturday, I will board a train for Connecticut and host the Spirit Awards in Norwich. Fun!

I love hosting. This past Wednesday, Jim and I co-hosted the Salon at Etcetera Etcetera for Mark Janas, and Jim, having just done a show -- or did he do two that day? -- mostly sat and watched, but then got up and did, with me, "Christmastime" and, with Mark on piano, "If I Were A Rich Man."

You might remember Julie Reyburn. She's a singer Mark Janas works with, and who sang "Going It Alone" at the Spirit Of Broadway Awards when both Jim and I hosted them a few years ago. Since then, every time I see her, I joke with her about not singing it enough. (I want everyone always singing all my songs, all the time). And sure enough, last Wednesday, I made fun of her for not doing it that night.

Then, I said, "It's okay, Julie. I've found a new singer, Jennifer Wren."

Jennifer has been working with Amy Lynn Shapiro, who write the lyrics for "Nobody Leaves New York," ever since Amy began the BMI Musical Theatre writing workshop. And, since this song is going into our new show, "Manhattan Clam Chowder," she already knew the song.

And, boy, did she sing that song. Wow.

I have most of this on tape, but because time is not on my side here in New York, I still haven't edited videos from a week ago, much less this past week. So, I promise to give you, reader, a taste of what Jennifer did as soon as I can. What I can tell you is that when she got off the stage, she passed by Jim who told me that he told her, "You just got yourself a job."

That night, I also led the whole room singing "My Thanksgiving Prayer" and then finished up with "Edison Diner," another song from "Manhattan Clam Chowder."

And then, of course, I announced to the room that I was a jealous songwriter and I wanted everyone there to be singing only my songs from now on.

And why not? Isn't that EVERY songwriter's dream?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Jim and Marvin Hamlisch!

After the show Sunday night, Marvin Hamlisch came to see Jim in his dressing room. Here, they posed for a shot.



Then, Jim told him that Joan Crawford said, "Always stand on the right in a group photo."

Marvin said, "Why?"

Jim responded, "So, you get your name listed first in the photo credit!"



At that point, Hamlisch jostled to get over to the right. And made it!

Project Shaw.

Jim has been invited to participate in a very prestigious play reading series, Project Shaw. He's going to play both a woman AND a man!

The Actress in the Lobby.

The New York Times review posed this question:
"I don’t know how many hours Mr. Brochu, who also wrote the script, has spent in front of a mirror practicing his eye rolls and bellowing quips, but it has paid off.
The answer is zero. He has done that zero times.

I live with him. I know.

However, he does it to the girl checking the groceries. And the taxi driver. And the waiter. And whoever else is in the room. And he's been doing it for the 25 years I've known him.

Brochu is as much Mostel as he is Brochu. I particularly love the quote from The New Yorker. "After a while, you stop caring whether a particular line is Brochu's or Mostel's; all you know is that you've been privy to the work of a great comedian."

Zero was all id. The same way Lewis Black is id. It's theatricality, but blatant and unapologetic. And it's truth. Angry truth. Angry, funny truth.

Jim doesn't play Zero. He just lets Zero in for two hours and then he wants home, game shows, the cat and something nourishing to eat (like hot dogs and milk, a food combination that I find completely disgusting). But we all get to visit with Zero.

He even lets you in on the fact that it's an illusion by doing an improv in the middle of "Zero Hour" where you see rage beneath the charming Z, without worrying about the fact that he's acting. When Zero's "real" rage bellows up later, you're ready for it.

Something else wonderful is happening.

All of Zero's friends are showing up. Arms crossed. You can see it in their body language.

"Who is this schmuck who thinks he can be Zero?" "Nobody can be Zero."

And they're right. They're absolutely right. Jim is not Zero. But at some point, during the performance, as someone remarked, you start to laugh, and then you forget. You just forget that you're not seeing Zero, that it's not really him.

And when you realize you've forgotten, it makes you feel warm inside.

Zero's back. He's really back. And he's pissed off. But funny pissed.

After the show, they all want to meet Jim and tell him Zero stories. And this, for me, is the best part of all. Zero stories!

Because, when I say Zero's friends are coming to see the show, what I mean is Theater History is walking through the door. It's pouring into that little historic church so quickly, I don't know where to begin to record it all. For this Buna, Texas country boy, it's completely overwhelming.

Sunday night, after Zero Hour, there was an older lady standing in the lobby. She was very elegant, a little fragile. She said she was an actress who once worked with Zero and she wanted to meet Jim and tell him a story. I invited her back, but there was also a group of his old college theater friends there, most of them now "civilians," one a priest, and, as I let them all in, somehow, I lost this lady in the crowd.

I feel awful that I didn't get her name.

When you do Zero, you open up a window onto a different era, the inhabitants are still around, but only just around. It's one that has special resonance with our own era. One that I understand is currently being captured in "Orson And Me," -- a new film which we haven't seen yet. Jim can't bear to go anywhere on his days off. Taking the veil. He won't go see a show. Bed. Cat. Game shows. We talked about that in The Big Voice.

In Palm Springs, this lady in her 90s, after show -- hair jet black -- said to Jim, "Do you remember me? I'm Anna."

Jim said, "Well, hi Anna."

"I used to see you when you walked your dogs."

Jim never had dogs to walk. And then we realized. To her, he was Zero.

But he was great with her.

Jim took her into his arms and gently reminded her that he was not really Zero, and she slowly realized what she had done, and smiled about it, but it was just so beautiful that she was still there, in the moment. With Zero.

So, Sunday night, this lady, a former actress told me she was in a show with Zero. A Lillian Hellman play or something. But she was down at the actors union and people were encouraging the actors to come in, and she saw Zero approaching down the street. He threw out his arms. She threw out her arms, and he turned around and fell into her arms, in effect, cradling him from behind.

As she told me the story, she giggled and posed like the dancer she was, or maybe is. I could just see this world of New York in the 30s, the verisimilitude smacking me in the face.

This old wooden church with its wooden staircases stood right here in this spot during that time. Its high cathedral ceiling and open area, everything here feels depression era, in a dimmed-out, realistic way. Even the fact that Jim uses no sound equipment. I close my eyes sometimes and can hear the speeches ringing out in union halls and church houses and theaters.

The producers of Zero Hour gave him a huge autograph book. Marvin Hamlisch signed it this weekend.

And we do love the celebrities who have come, and are still coming, but I don't want to lose the other friends. I hope they all come. I hope they all tell us stories.

But, no. Jim didn't practice being Zero, though I confess I've seen him cock an eyebrow in the mirror. (His make-up is disturbingly simple, and it's based on the Hirschfeld of Zero doing Fiddler. Why mess with perfection?)

And he does do crossword puzzles.

(His before-show privacy is guarded with loving ferocity by Jeramy Peay and Don Myers, the kind of stage managers Joan Crawford would have loved, these two are scrubbing down this historic church building, which has a food pantry every Saturday morning, board by board. Don, on the ladder cleaning the fans the other day. Jeramy, dropping down into a break between the grandstand and the wall to pick up trash that had fallen.)

I hope the lady actress somehow sees this entry, somehow, and comes back. I really did mean to escort her back.

When they say that theater is a living art, I'm only just now beginning to understand what that means.