Best known for the Off-Broadway musicals, "The Last Session," "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" and "New World Waking," a song cycle for peace and justice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Little Big Voice.

"Tonight, we have in our audience, Jake LaMotta."

Those words came out of Jim Brochu's mouth as he introduced celebrities in the audience after our performance of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?""

The first thing that went through my mind was, "Oh, man. All my straight friends will be so impressed!"

See, we here at the bonus round are still a very small private club. "Go out on the street and ask the first ten people you meet if they've ever heard of you. I promise you. They haven't." That's what the big PR agents representing The Big Voice said at our first meeting back six years ago.

And, now, here we were down on 42nd street, a few blocks from Times Square.

"And here, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the great songwriters in the world. Fiddler on the Roof. She Loves Me. Sheldon Harnick is here tonight."


The club was jam-packed. They had been laughing almost non-stop at us for 90 minutes.

Just before the performance, Jake came in and got my video camera and we did a little interview.  I told him I was terrified.

The stage of the Laurie Beechman Theater is very small, and though we had a sound and light check, a sound and light cue to cue, Nick the tech guy and Don Myers, as stage manager, were flying by the seat of their pants with the sound and light cues, especially when we veered off book along the way. Which we did.

I must say, too, that I saw them invent some terrific lighting designs during the songs.

The Laurie Beechman is used mostly as a cabaret space in the basement of the very elegant West Bank Cafe on 42nd street that seats about 90 or 100, if you really squeeze. The sound and lights are excellent and it even has a grand piano, which we didn't use because we need stage space to move around, and the food is great, not overly expensive, and the entertainers are usually superb. It hosts everyone from veterans like Joan Rivers to the hottest up and coming acts on the New York cabaret scene, to special nights featuring Broadway veterans and stars from movies and tv.

However, as far as I know, I didn't know if anyone had actually staged a musical in there.

But, that made it even more fun. What's the worse that could happen?

Jim and I had three talk-through rehearsals to get it back into our heads, just enough to have the courage to step out there and go for it, knowing we might go up at any moment, and that, if we did, it wouldn't matter.


I remember the night, during the off-Broadway run, I turned into the spotlight of the incredibly black nothingness and totally forgot the first line of the play. It was totally gone. Poof. I just stood there sweating and turning hotter and hotter on the inside.

But somehow, I stumbled out of it and the audience just thought it was part of the act.

In case you're just joining us, this was a special 65th birthday performance for Jim of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" a homemade musical about the amazing future pope, Jim Brochu and his friend Little Steve.

It's easy to work with Jim. He does all the hard stuff! All I have to do is play the straight man during his comic routines, and sing a few songs. Easy peasy. Oh! And to try not to act. in fact, I did a lot less acting this night than I ever did before. I used to try to illustrate everything with my hands while playing the piano. You know, entertain a little!

Sheldon Harnick said something to me after the show. He said he had forgotten -- and I don't remember his exact words -- forgotten how real life is entertaining on its own. He said as a songwriter, he's always trying to entertain. But that you don't have to do that if you have a good story.

I do remember one thing he said, "You've inspired me."

Well, Mr. Sheldon Harnick you inspired me and continue to inspire me. I did, in my Baptist childhood, see the movie of "Fiddler on the Roof." I saw you at Jerry Bock's memorial service and you sang your heart out, and you sounded fantastic.

Anyway, I knew Sheldon was in the audience. I also know that his songs are meticulously crafted. He comes from the old school, where every word is perfectly placed, perfectly rhymed, perfectly meaningful. It's the school I aspire to.

So, that night, when I started any song, I was trying to remember them and rewrite them as I sang them. "Oh, God, I hope Sheldon didn't that little fake-out." I played "One New Hell" a whole step too high, which made it impossible for Jim to sing his last notes up in the right range. I sang the wrong version of one of the verses of "Sometimes When I Pray," the one with the half rhyme instead of the full rhyme.

And then there was dialogue. And just being present. It takes a lot of work to just be present. When a thousand things are going through your head and you're trying not to look at faces pressed up into the nightclub spotlight, you remind yourself that all you have to do is listen.

I remember a lot of laughter. A lot. Of laughter. In fact, the only time they weren't laughing was when they were listening to a song or crying. I heard sobs!

I felt like a Jake LaMotta up there. Punch 'em once with a surprise! Knock 'em down with a punchline. Disarm them with truth. Set 'em up. Knock 'em down.

Until, suddenly it was over. It happened in a flash.

Only one time did I totally freeze, trying to remember my next line. So, Jim left me out there to hang, we had a great laugh, and moved right along.

After the bows, when Jim told everyone to sit for a moment, calling for the house lights so that he could recognize celebrities in the audience, there was Marge Champion, world famous magician Rich Bloch, theater, TV producer and writer David Rambo. Sheldon Harnick.

We received another call from someone we both love and admire. His name is Harvey Evans. He was in the original cast of Sondheim's "Follies." We had invited him up to the apartment afterward, but he said he couldn't do it -- that he was so taken by the show, he didn't want to "leave" it. He said, 'I felt like I was watching the Lunts. You guys have set the bar very high for this kind of show."

So, all in all, it was a great night. Hopefully, one they'll let us repeat.

And Jake LaMotta. That was cool.







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