Wednesday, January 06, 2010

BroadwayWorld Article on LITB 2010

From BroadwayWorld:

The Theater at St. Clement's (423 West 46th Street) will host LIVING IN THE BONUS ROUND 2010, a "pay what you can" benefit concert featuring GLAAD and LA Ovation Award-winning composer/lyricist Steve Schalchlin and Friends, including playwright/actor Jim Brochu (currently starring in the Off-Broadway hit Zero Hour), plus original cast members of their acclaimed Off-Broadway musical The Last Session - Stephen Bienskie, Amy Coleman and Michele Mais (currently on Broadway in Rock of Ages), as well as singers Jennifer Wren and John Fitzgerald, plus many more to be announced.

The one-night-only event on Wednesday, January 13th at 7PM, will benefit St. Clement's weekly food pantry and monthly free veterinary clinic for low-income families in Hell's Kitchen. (Well-behaved pets are welcome at the concert.)

LIVING IN THE BONUS ROUND 2010 will feature Schalchlin at the piano, along with special guests performing songs from Schalchlin & Brochu's critically acclaimed musicals The Last Session; The Big Voice - God or Merman? and their upcoming Manhattan Clam Chowder, along with songs from Schalchlin's song cycle for peace, New World Waking.

Steve Schalchlin explains, "When Jim and I arrived at St. Clement's this past November with Zero Hour, I saw a line of people outside the building that stretched down the block. I thought, ‘Oh, great! We're a hit and we haven't even opened yet! Upon closer inspection, we saw they were waiting for bags of groceries being given out by a team of teenagers, volunteering community service for the day. And I thought, ‘How great is that? A theater that gives out food to the poor.'"

For Schalchlin, it's personal: "My father was a Baptist minister in southeast Texas. I watched his tiny congregations of paper mill workers and subsistence farmers always reaching out to people with barely enough to survive. Also, for several years, AIDS put me in that position of going from service to service, begging for help just to get through another month. When I attended the Sunday morning service at St. Clement's, I witnessed what I saw growing up, a small congregation devoted to providing basic services to people (and their pets!) in need. And I wanted to help. Plus, they let people bring their pets to church with them. So we decided to make the show open to people and pets. As admission, bring what you can, pay what you can afford."

Steve Schalchlin received an L.A. Theater Ovation Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in The Big Voice: God or Merman? but he primarily sees himself as a songwriter. He has been a performer all his life, first in his hometown Texas church, chorus and ensemble work in college, band gigs, and now the stage. He currently lives in Los Angeles and regularly appears on the nationally broadcast "Kulak's Woodshed" in North Hollywood, both as on air host and performer.

Jim Brochu is currently starring in the critically acclaimed Zero Hour as theatre legend Zero Mostel at Theater at St. Clement's, which won the Ovation Award for Best Play. He and Schalchlin wrote and performed The Big Voice: God or Merman? Off-Broadway.

Stephen Bienskie, who originated the role of Buddy in the original Off-Broadway production of The Last Session, has gone on to much acclaim, winning the Helen Hayes Award in Washington, DC for his leading role in The Fix. He also appeared Off-Broadway in Zombie Prom and on Broadway in Cats.

Michele Mais performed the role of Tryshia in the LA production of The Last Session and is currently featured in the Broadway smash Rock of Ages playing Justice and Mother. She also appeared in Roza and Zoot Suit.

Amy Coleman also appeared in the original The Last Session. She recently toured Italy with her Italian blues band Amy Coleman and Texaco Jive. With Valerie Smaldone, she wrote Spit It Out, a play with music (Midtown InterNational Theatre Festival). Coleman sang with Peter Frampton in the British Rock Symphony and portrayed Janis Joplin in the original production of Beehive.

Jennifer Wren is a New York singer discovered by Schalchlin and Brochu at Mark Janas' Salon, currently at Etcetera Etcetera. She performed "Nobody Leaves New York" from Manhattan Clam Chowder that night and they immediately invited her to join them for this benefit.

Jonathan Fitzgerald is also a popular singer in Manhattan nightclubs. Schalchlin first heard him singing at the Sunday morning service at St. Clement's.

Recently cited by The New York Times as creator of one of (if not THE first) AIDS diary, Steve Schalchlin's website, Living in the Bonus Round, was created in March of 1996, long before the word "blog" was even conceived. It was an experiment to help him and his doctor keep track of his disease, and to keep his family informed about the state of his health. Living in the Bonus Round inadvertently became the first "blog" of a musical in progress as The Last Session went through its workshop phase in Los Angeles. The blog exposure led to funding for the New York production, which led to features in People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, among others.

The Last Session was created from songs written as healing therapy by Mr. Schalchlin (book by Jim Brochu) during his struggle with AIDS. The writing of the songs kept him alive just long enough for the new HIV drugs to come on the market.

This Off-Broadway production, which opened to near-unanimous raves in 1997 at the 47th Street Theatre, went on to win multiple theater awards around the country, including L.A. Critics Circle awards for Best Musical, Best Supporting Actress (Michele Mais) and Best Musical Score, an award Mr. Schalchlin also received for The Big Voice: God or Merman?, their subsequent autobiographical musical.

After playing New York for nine months, a Los Angeles production was put together using three of the five of the New York cast, Bob Stillman, Stephen Bienskie, and Amy Coleman, opening to rave reviews.

Says Mr. Schalchlin, "I'm excited about the music we're going to make on January 13. It will be a deeply emotional evening."

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