Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Review of the Metropolitan Room Concert.

I was in email black-out when the review hit.

I had been waiting and waiting for it, but went offline for a week. When I logged back in, there was an email from my old pal, Bev saying, essentially, what did you pay the guy at the BroadwayWorld for that review?

That "guy" is Stephen Hanks, a well respected online critic, publisher and producer on the cabaret and theater scene in New York. He sees everything. I cajoled him to come and review my one night only concert. We've met many times at various shows, benefits and events. And also, to be fair, Stephen is a sweetheart and I don't recall him ever having written a nasty review. Even if he hated it, he'd find something kind to say. And then I could use that for future publicity and promotion. (Promotions don't work if you're the only one telling the world how good you are.)

"A terrific night of music!" says Steve Schalchlin about Steve Schalchlin. Nope. Doesn't do it.  Quotes, people! We need quotes!

So, Bev seems to think it's good. Bev's done PR work for me before. If she's this excited, then something must be up.

I looked in my Google Alerts, and there was the link. "Steve Schalchlin not Saccharine."

Okay. That's not a mind-blowing, call the relatives headline, but since I write what many people feel is very uplifting music, being saccharine (a fake sweet that feels phony) is the WORST fear I have. I avoid it at all costs.

Taking a deep breath I dove into the review.

He opens the review with a long paragraph about making people cry. About how difficult it is to pull this off because, in order for an audience to go there, they have to truly be engaged and they have to believe that what you're singing is coming right from the heart. When he listed Ann Hampton Callaway, I sat bolt upright. She's one of the finest cabaret performers alive. Where is he going with this?

Here is where he went:
But it's rare to encounter an entire cabaret offering that is so personal, sensitive, and emotionally compelling on a number of levels as to leave you feeling satisfyingly drained by the end of it. When a show can do that without a hint of sadness, self-indulgence, or sickeningly sweet sentimentality, what you've experienced is nothing short of a dramatic triumph. That's pretty much what singer/songwriter Steve Schalchlin (pronounced SHACK-lin) accomplished on October 27 with his new show at the Metropolitan Room.
WHAT?? That paragraph alone is incredible. I started to breathe deeply. Women weep for such quotes. Men starve for quotes like this. And he's not remotely done yet.
While it was billed as a presentation celebrating the release of his 13-song CD, Tales From the Bonus Round, and his 60th birthday, it was so much more than that. It was also a show about fear, fortitude, anxiety, anguish, compassion, courage, and love, all expressed in poetic and often clever lyrics and melodies ranging from uplifting gospel to Billy Joel-sounding mid-tempo pop to sensitive ballads, many colored with musical theater undertones.
Wow! Stephen! You're embarrassing me!

He goes on to praise one of the newest songs, "So Many Days In An Hour" and one from The Last Session, "Somebody's Friend." But then...
But probably the most compelling and powerful song in the set came next with the moving and self-revelatory "At A Hospice, In The Atrium," which is not only about Steve's actual experience of what he calls "a harrowing and emotional afternoon singing in an unusual place," but is also about the true meaning of performing music for the love of it and as a gesture of healing, and not about doing it for money, approval or glory. You couldn't even hear a glass clink in the Met Room as Schalchlin tenderly told his tale
And that's it, isn't it? In a world where people think fame is a valid end goal, what happens when you do something for the love of it, or because someone needs you? Or, as he puts, "a gesture of healing?"

I can answer that. The world opens its arms. And I can tell you why. Wanna do songs about how awful the world is? About how everything sucks? Easy. In improv class, they always say that the easiest route, during a scene, is the one that goes violent or nasty. Piece of cake.

Now try doing something positive, uplifting or healing. And do it honestly and not in some treacly, obvious way. Try doing it without, as Stephen put is, "a hint of sadness, self-indulgence, or sickeningly sweet sentimentality."

Readers wrote me after this review and asked me how I did it. Easy. I was just myself. Tell the story and get off the stage. That's how you do it. Just tell the story. Same advice Jim Brochu gave me on Day One when I was writing the score for The Last Session.

Again, it's easy to name all the crappy stuff in the world. Easy as a cat sleeps. I know people -- well meaning people who DWELL in the feelings that bad stuff brings to them. As if FEELING bad and experiencing the weight of the world is providing some kind of solution. It gives them the illusion that they're doing something.

In order to survive, I had to do more than know what was wrong with me. I had to take physical, actual, concrete steps to get myself out of the hole. Yes, my friends helped. Yes, my support system gave me encouragement, but the battles are all inside.

In the past two weeks, I've had emails from friends who have been living at the bottom of their ability to endure. A cold mattress in a lonely apartment. Or no apartment at all and wondering where they would get their next meal. I look around and see that I have food and shelter, and Jim and Steinbeck. We may not be rich, but we survive. And how do we survive? By doing what it takes to survive. This morning, I did my hour running and another half hour stretching and lifting weights. I cooked my veggies up and I turned away from junk food and laziness.

Simple things. One step at a time things. These are decisions we make and when we make them, good things result.

Stephen got to that point of the review and said:
As a TV sports reporter offering highlights of a blowout game might say, "You could have turned your sets off right there," and this would have qualified as a wonderful show, but there were still seven songs plus an encore to go.
And he takes us through the rest of the show with equally effusive praise, which was only an hour long, by the way. And he finally finishes with:
Steve Schalchlin's sincere and sensitive show made me cry with joy.
And your review made me cry with Joy, Stephen Hanks. Thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. My next problem is how do I choose one quote for my upcoming repeat of this concert? How about this?


Okay, now, reader please buy some tickets for the next show. If not for yourself, then for someone you know who needs to hear the music.

EDIT: Jim Brochu will now be performing CHARACTER MAN at 9pm after my concert. Both shows are $25 plus two beverages, but for both shows, the cost will be $40.
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New article in Arts & Understanding (with amazing photos)

http://aumag.org/2017/05/10/steve-schalchlin-advocate/