Jim with Festival volunteers Will and Paul.
My favorite moment doing "The Big Voice" opening the Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Theatre Festival happened on the second night. The old Plays and Players Theatre, a hundred or more years old, looked like a grand faded Broadway house. Rising on each side were murals, almost black with age. The stage was raised high. It was wide and roomy with fly space and wings. It was a hot, humid night, so the ancient air conditioning was straining to keep us at least comfortable.
If you know Big Voice, it begins with thunder and lighting and rain exploding out of the speakers in the dark. Then the Big Voice says, "In the beginning..." etc. As we start doing our lines and crossing over to sing "Why?" I hear what I think is a rumble, like someone is dragging something heavy just outside the doors and stomping their feet.
It kept going in and out as Jim stepped up to say, "I knew I was destined to be the first Brooklyn born Pope!"
Suddenly, a CRACK of thunder seemed to hit the building and rain began pounding on the roof.
Never one to pass up a chance to make a joke, he looked up to the sky and said something like, "Oh! I see you agree!"
It was a welcome relief to feel so comfortable in our roles because the first night was a total nightmare. I guess it had just been too long since we did Big Voice -- and it's totally embarrassing to admit to this, but I had the second most nerve-wracking experience of my life on Friday night.
I was singing "Where Is God" and when I got to the second verse, I totally lost it. I had no idea what those words were. I kept repeating the first phrase of the last verse, knowing I couldn't go there because it would ruin the whole song. Instead, I just kind of ducked my head and kept playing the piano until I fully grasped that the words were not going to come.
Accepting my fate, I looked over at Jim, smiled, and pointed to him.
Luckily, he was on top of it, smoothly going right into his monologue about Merman and the hospital visit ("The look on their faces when I walked in with a Candy Striper that looked like Ethel Merman!") which then leads to the song reprise.
I cannot tell you how hot your skin can get on stage, especially on an already warm night. I know I must have turned 10 shades of red.
We had a similar moment in act two, right at the end, when I forgot to say a line and then Jim just took it right into the end. Which was fine except I also forgot the words to the finale.
And here's the worst thing ever:
I'm sitting there vamping on the reprise of "Why?" when I see Jim, who's standing down stage of me, turn back to me mouthing some words.
I have no idea why he's mouthing words to me. I supposed, finally that it meant I was supposed to say something. Or maybe my fly was open.
I looked at him and said, "What?"
He said, "I mmm..mm ..thel Merman."
He came closer and leaned over, "I MARRIED ETHEL MERMAN!!"
Oh! That's the first line of the song. I'm supposed to sing!! So I sang that line, Jim sang his but I think he stumbed on it, followed by me not having a clue what I was supposed to sing next.
Finally, in total triumph, I just started proudly singing, "Da da da da da..." Jim joined in and we sang through to the end, "So goodbye!"
The audience went crazy, nobody could tell a thing. It was great.
DEAN AND JIM
For the last year or so, I've been corresponding with a very sweet guy named Dean is planning a local production of "The Big Voice" in Allentown, PA. It's in a theatre company they've created out of MCC of Lehigh Valley.
When Dean (who's playing Steve) saw we'd be in Philly, he wrote and said he'd love to bring his partner, Rob and his castmate, Jim (who's playing Jim) and his partner whose name I think is Steve. (But after seeing the show, Dean decided to play Jim and give Jim the role of Steve. Are you keeping up with this?)
They were so lovely. Dean, a singer/dancer, has had a long history of going through exgay programs, becoming a spokesperson, realizing he wasn't really changing (and neither was anyone else in the programs), so he came out. But then, like many who grow up hating themselves for being gay, he fell into total self-destruction until he found himself on his back in the hospital, the funeral home literally on the phone -- when he suddenly opened his eyes and realized that he had a life left to live.
He found a life partner, moved to Pennsylvania, created a nice home together, found a church and has now created a theatre company.
We all met and went out for Chinese. I totally fell in love with these guys. And it's cool that they'll be the first to independently cast and produce The Big Voice. I loved meeting them. Hopefully, I'll get to see them on stage! Their production is planned for November.
When the history of "The Big Voice: God or Merman? is written, there will be one moment that will shine, for us, above all. And it happ...
Hal Block, the increasingly irritating panelist on "What's My Line?" was fired last night after the show. Well, back in 1953. ...
Charles Nelson Reilly with the Laguna Playhouse cast of The Last Session. R. to L.: Joel Traywick, Bob Stillman, Michele Mais, Charles Nels...