'Big Voice' boy meets boy love story
Sure, we know life is a cabaret. But with Ethel Merman? Hers is not the first name to come sailing out of the wings when we think of that popular musical.
Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin sing and dance to a different drummer, however. When Brochu starts singing, his eyes light up, he spreads his arms and a distinctly Ethel Mermanish sound comes out.
He is not imitating her. He is living her - the pure joy and over-the-top enthusiasm of someone who doesn't really exist unless he's performing. Schalchlin is equally eager to be an entertainer. He just isn't that crazy about Merman. Brochu figures nobody's perfect.
Life being the cabaret it is, Brochu and Schalchlin were made for each other. The story of their journey together is the story of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" a heartfelt musical comedy that becomes endearing because it feels so honest.
This show is their autobiography, opening Invisible Theatre's 37th season with a refreshing generosity of spirit. Both men are accomplished and confident performers. One story in "The Big Voice" relives the moment when Brochu has his caricature formally hung alongside all the other theater luminaries at Sardi's Broadway restaurant.
There are plenty of differences between the two men. Brochu is heavyset. Schalchlin is slender. Brochu is Brooklyn-born and Catholic. Schalchlin is a Southern boy who grew up in the Baptist church.
Right away we know this won't be your typical musical revue because right away both men start singing about the similarities between show business and religion. As college students, both considered entering the ministry. Brochu still hasn't outgrown this thing for wanting to dress up like a bishop. It's only natural (so to speak) he would think that when God sings, the voice is Ethel Merman.
What the show is about, really, is the magic of being in love. Who can't identify with that?
Out of nowhere you meet someone purely by chance, feel those sparkly tingles, begin to think "What if?" Then like a dream unfolding, one glowing moment leads to another as this unexpected meeting becomes a friendship that develops the real muscle of a relationship and becomes . . . a full-blown musical comedy with all the jokes and stage lighting.
You always thought your own life would make a good novel? Well, Brochu and Schalchlin are thinking Broadway instead of print.
Act One describes their playfulness and defines how much they actually are alike. It makes you appreciate how difficult domestic life can be for someone who loves to sing like Ethel Merman in the shower every morning. Act Two gets serious when Schalchlin is diagnosed with "it," the disease so terminal nobody wants to say its name. What follows is the couple's struggle to decide which sacrifices are worth making and which simply aren't.
A happy ending? Have you ever seen a musical comedy that didn't have a happy ending? Well, yes, "Cabaret" doesn't have a happy ending, but "The Big Voice" will have you wanting to hold hands with someone as you leave the theater.
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