Friday, October 29, 2010

Angels In America

Zachary Quinto ("Sylar" from HEROES & "Spock" from STAR TREK) played Louis in the
Signature Theater's revival of ANGELS IN AMERICA

Steve with Christian Borle ("Prior" in ANGELS IN AMERICA).

Frank Wood ("Roy Cohn" from ANGELS IN AMERICA) with Steve.

Steve with mega-award winning playwright of ANGELS IN AMERICA, Tony Kushner.
I posted my "review" of this on Facebook and All That Chat. Here is what I wrote:


First, I've never seen Angels before, so I cannot compare this to past productions. Secondly, I have AIDS and was almost as sick as the character of Prior, in and out of hospitals -- and I remember the fever dreams and the cold sweats and the rage. The rage that actor Christian Borle drags up from the depths of his soul. It's so real. My eyes begin to tear up even as I write this.

I could go through the rest of this incredible cast, one by one, because every performance is now seared into my soul.

But let me tell you just how great Zachary Quinto is. Like most, I know him only as the evil Sylar or Spock. His stage presence is electrifying and grounded, all at the same time. Not a single false moment. This man commands a stage with subtle body movements, at once masculine and then feminine and then masculine again, as the character tries to find his own soul, even as he abandons the one person he loves. Chilling. Mesmerizing. Helpless. Forceful.

His tearful breakdown in the bathroom in act one, snot dripping, eyes pouring tears, and yet all contained and controlled by both actor and character. Sylar and Spock are driven from my memory banks. He's nothing like them, a consummate, skilled actor whose scenes with Prior are chilling and desperate and scary and loud, and haunting and brave. (Yes, brave. In the first park scene, where he begs for sex, he completely exposes himself and the scene is so anti-erotic in its desperation, I forgot how sexy the man is).

Three hours felt like three minutes. The play is more than I ever dreamed it could be. Tangled storylines that breathe with life and humor and anger and determination, thrillingly performed and perfectly staged.

And all of it so close to us in the little space, where tickets are $20 apiece. I would have paid $1000 (if I had that much to spend).

And that was just Part One.

PART TWO (the next night):

This morning, after reading the mostly cold, intellectual reviews comparing this "Angels" to past "Angels" and these actors to past actors, I can only state that I will never be a critic, do not envy their jobs, and am thankful that I don't have to be one. Because what I read so missed the forest for the trees, that I almost feel sorry for them.

I sat riveted in my seat, on the edge of tears, overwhelmed with so much emotion and memory of the days when AZT was considered so valuable, people fought for it.

When I was first diagnosed, right about the time this play came out, AZT was considered, as Prior says at the end, poison. People were wearing them like necklaces, warning others off. And when I tried AZT, my body rejected it so violently, that I had to pull my car over in Los Angeles and vomit in the street.

So, seeing Roy Cohn's small refrigerator full of the stuff, and Belize the nurse taking it and stealing bottles away, begging for it, I was transported back to that era where nobody knew nothing, and having AIDS meant absolute death.

In part 2 of Angels, the supernatural encounters with the angel made zero intellectual sense to me, but emotionally? All the sense in the world. Critics carping on the politics in Angels may make a valid intellectual point, but those scenes (both with the angel and with Zachary Quinto's riveting, lost, wandering Louis) provided, for me, the breath/space that I needed to take in order to process all the base level anger that is the bedrock of this piece -- and which resides, painfully and eloquently in the huge, all-seeing eyes of Christian Borle's Prior.

Before, I mentioned how I never saw Angels before because I was that sick man dying in that bed when it came out. I couldn't watch the HBO version because I just... couldn't. It was too close. Too soon for me.

So, last night, after feeling alternated smacked down and emotionally slaughtered, then inspired and lifted up by part one, I can tell you that part two seemed to go by even faster.

I got to briefly meet Tony Kushner last night and I told him that I was thankful for the surrealism because I don't know how else one could honestly, and with depth, describe what 1985 felt like. The world, for most of us in the gay and gay-supportive community was, literally, crashing down around us and death was our constant companion. We needed desperately to awake to a new world, God had deserted us, and mourning black was the only color that bound us all together.

When Prior wrestles with the angel, now sheathed in black, and ascends to a feckless, hopeless, ridiculously unempowered "heaven," where angels dressed like judges stood around helplessly wondering what the hell is going on down on earth, disconnected, and unable to act or even feel, as they stuttered "I.. I.. I.." it was the perfect metaphor for empty religious promises and the phoniness of "prophets" or even thought that one could be a prophet. Prior's basic "fuck you" to God and the rest of the celestial do-nothings was searing.

Because, once the fever breaks, you're left with the few who care and ones who held your hand, whether it's a Mormon mom or that nurse that stuck it out and cared for you when it seemed like no one else could. (Unlike Prior, I had a husband who never left my side). But the thing about disease, as someone in the play says, you have to endure it alone because no one can feel what you feel or live what you're living, no matter how close they are.

See, I cannot "review" a show like this. I was too busy living inside the show. Was Zoe Kazan a "good" Harper? Was Frank Wood appropriately "mean" as Roy Cohn? Was the Mormon story "too" much an emotional center? I felt Harper's naked helplessness and Cohn's denialist rage against his own mortality, and Louis using his own rants against Cohn as a substitute target for his own self-hatred and betrayal was perfectly pitched. His hatred of Cohn had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with a guilty man staring into a mirror, begging to be beaten, which is why he needed and pushed the wandering/weak Joe to beat the shit out of him.

I'm glad I missed the grand spectacle of the Broadway version because this intensely personal, pain-wracked play, which plays like a theatrical Incredible Hulk, bursting from his street clothes in order to stomp around the stage, smashing dioramas of ridiculous Mormons and laying waste to the streets of San Francisco, and the emptiness of the false promises of a heavenly savior, wakes up in the real world, a little smaller and little more human than how it came in, with people still imagining a better future that, in history's hindsight, reveals that the only better world you can create is within.

The Perestroika that seemed so promising gives way to Putin. The Red Menace, so scary before, is now wearing Muslim garb and the promise of Obama falls before Sarah Palin's Tea Party, and where today's Roy Cohn is named Karl Rove.

In many ways, the naivete of the characters at the end of Angels is just as politically and religiously ignorant as when they came in. And that's the world.

That's why this play, for me, is so rich. And that's why it works on this tiny human scale, where we all stand shivering in the Antarctic, alone, because, in the end, power, politics, and religion will fail. But faith -- and love -- in each other, and in ourselves -- to wrestle the angel to the ground -- is where our true salvation lies.

It Gets Better: GMCLA & Oral Roberts' Grandson.

Oral Roberts' oldest son was gay. He committed suicide. This is his grandson.

This is the LA Gay Men's Chorus singing "True Colors." When the family members join in on this song, it's chilling and wonderful.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's A Miracle.

You may remember a posting I did during the Iranian green uprising, called "The Religious Ones." I spoke about how, after I came out to myself and left my band, I got a job working as a cook at a Mexican food restaurant in Jacksonville, Texas, where I met a group of Iranian students working their way through school.

It was 1978 - 1980 that we knew each other. In fact, when they moved to Denton, Texas to continue their studies, I piled up my Ford Maverick and followed them -- and that's where I found the gay community and finally started to live openly and freely.

In that posting, I mentioned having a friend named Koorush -- he called me "Astiv," which was the closest he could get to "Steve." Koorush, who was straight as an arrow, was my very best friend during those Jacksonville/Denton years. And even after I came out of the closet, he was the one who protected me, and fought for me, and loved me when I felt very much alone.

At the end of that diary entry, I called out to him and said, "Are you out there?"

Well, it happened. I received a mysterious email on Facebook, and it turned out to be him. He had found that page, said he'd been looking for me for years, but couldn't spell my last name, and reminded me that he was not among the group that used to troll for girls at the gay bars, which was true. He was not a partier like the rest of us.

This morning, we had our first long chat and he remembered everything. Remembered me. Remembered our crazy times together. He lives in Iran now with his family, and as we chatted, I got very misty-eyed and started crying. 

Looking back, I realize that he was one of the few people who really and truly loved me during a time when I felt completely alone. I had cut off, more or less, my old Christian friends, my family, everyone. I thought I had to. I thought if they knew I was gay, they would hate me and reject me. So, I rejected them first, though, to them, I kind of just disappeared with only occasional phone calls.

When the other Iranians discovered I was gay, it was Koorush who defended me to them, and held onto me until I finally moved down to Dallas and away from them. 

That period of my life is difficult for me to remember -- he reminded me that I have a "bad brain" -- but I never forgot him over the years, always wondering if he was still alive.

So, this is a great day today. He asked me to keep his life details private, so I will not say much else except to say that, even as I write this, huge tears are rolling down my face. 

He has a book of American idioms which I gave him long ago and he quoted to me what I inscribed. After all these years. After all these years. I am determined to see him again. Thank you, old friend, for finding me. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is that a sad face?

There I was. Alone. In pain.
(How great is my "I'm pathetic" look?)
And then, an angel arrives!
It's Taylor, fresh from his gig in White Plains,
checking up on me. His girlfriend is stage managing a show
just a few blocks away.
Taylor was part of the Zero Hour stage management crew at St. Clement's, coming in for Jeramiah.

We watched Project Runway together,
agreeing that Mondo is the best,
and he got me stuff from the kitchen so I could keep my arm still.
We got a Skype call from Jim, and he was telling us about all the people who have been coming back to see him. Not just friends or family of Zero, but also Jim's.

Mr. & Mrs. Maltz of the Maltz Jupiter Theater.
He saw Jim perform Zero Hour on a ship, and booked it long before it got to New York.
I have to say this about Jim. He's a very loyal man.

Long before Zero Hour landed in New York, Jim did a "tab" version of Zero Hour for the Crystal Cruise lines. It was kind of a daring experiment for Crystal, because the usual fare on a ship is light entertainment or classical music -- which is not a criticism, by the way. Just a statement of fact. He even included a particularly potent comedic line containing a few f-words, gracious me. (The fear, for the line, is that people on holiday don't need to walk into an adult theatrical piece accidentally. The emails! The complaints!)

After the cruise, we were contacted by a Mister Andrew Kato from the Maltz Jupiter Theater (formerly, the Burt Reynolds Theater). Andrew came to see it and loved it, and booked it.

Jim asked him, "And how did you hear about 'Zero Hour?'"

Andrew said, "Mr. Maltz just came back from his cruise to Antarctica."

So, fast forward. We've booked Zero Hour into New York for 12 weeks, thinking we'd cross our fingers for some good reviews, and get more bookings from that.

None of us foresaw winning the Drama Desk Award. Nor did we foresee that the Maltz Jupiter date would come while Zero Hour was still running (now at its third venue, the Actor's Temple, finally getting its "Jewish show" from us after getting the "Christian show" when we did Big Voice there).

But the date was upon us and Zero Hour is coming upon a year run.

Jim, in collaboration with our producers, shut down the New York run and allowed Jim to fulfill the contract.

He's kind of an old fashioned man of the theater. He's always good for his word. And, on that note, more and more bookings are coming up, so the show may have to take an extended hiatus. An official word will be coming soon.

And there's more, in November, we shall both take a long-planned and well-deserved holiday, beginning November 2, and returning around the Thanksgiving season. (Which will be great for me and my injured arm).

So, if you plan to see Zero Hour in New York, there are literally only a few performances that are going to be available. After that, he hits the road.

And he's coming home tomorrow night. He has really been raving about everyone, down to the last crew member, at the Maltz Jupiter Theater. The stage manager reports, describing the audience reactions to the show are AMAZING! I don't know it's legal for me to share any of it. Maybe it's best just kept in-house.

So, that's my report. I'm staying absolutely still, while occasionally testing a range of motion, trying to keep all the muscles cool, then warm, then cool.

Someone asked me if having AIDS contributes to the damage of a fall like this. I don't know, officially, but Dr. Anthony said that we are always in a low grade state of inflammation. I think it's safe to say that HIV isn't helping.

At least it gives me a good excuse for not having vacuumed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Wars, The Wars.

I have now spent this entire week, trapped on the couch, keeping my arm in ice. I didn't know until two days ago, though, that the problem was in my shoulder, not my wrist (because the pain seemed to be more focused on the lower arm and wrist area -- I thought the shoulder pain was coming from "favoring" my arm.

I'm still in pain, so I can't do much, include type, but I thought I'd just put down a few thoughts.

I probably shouldn't have gone to Columbus and done those two shows, but at the time, after I fell, mere steps away from my front door on a Sunday morning at 5am, all I could think of was, "I gotta get to the plane!" What can I say?  I'm dense.

Anyway, since I couldn't use my right hand much -- still can't -- it has given me a chance to slow down and just think, even as I have all the media I can eat.

I saw on the news the other night a story about making some kids spend a week, or something, away from all electronic devices -- and judging how "addicted" to the net they are.

It all sounds so fantastically sci fi to my ears. And yet, how quickly I take for granted things that, a generation ago, weren't even thought up yet.

But how ironic it is that the more we think up in The Cloud, the more unreal "reality" starts to seem. The two "wars" they keep telling us "we're" fighting rage on like an intermittent mini-series on USA Network. Our lives are so divorced from that reality, we don't even want to look at it.

(And, now, the Wikileaks Papers, which the major news organizations have been hoarding, so that they can analyze it before the government spin doctors go to work? have come out. Al Jazeera broke it 30 minutes too soon.)

Friends of mine on the Christian Right have been insisting, to me, that we are in a war with Islam itself, and that lefties are all in denial about it. Radical Islamists and radical Jews agree with them. It's nice to know they all agree about something other than gay people are going to hell. But, I kid my Abrahamic faith brothers and sisters!*

There was this song by the Monkees, long ago. Peter Tork sang it. The King of Zor / Called for a war.

I have several friends in the armed services who tell me they almost wince when someone says "thank you for your service" but ignore how this country treats its veterans, and how the wars are treated as this remote thing "the government" is doing. As interesting as watching someone else play a video game. Thus, without substance.

It's why I added the song called "He's Coming Back" to New World Waking with a shared lyric credit with my friend, Avril, who volunteers at Kulak's Woodshed. She sent her son back to Iraq and I wrote the song surreptitiously over the weekend, by writing down what she said as she told the story at a Wednesday song writing workshop.

That's the vocal arrangement I was working on all week. 

This is the video where I first performed the song for Avril, that following Monday.

It makes me even more committed to New World Waking, The Last Session and The Big Voice. All three pieces, written from the heart with no original purpose other than to tell a story and to entertain, foster an environment of dialogue and communication. 

Just last week, I heard from a theater in Canada that wants to use The Big Voice as their way of engaging with the conservative people in their area.

That's how all wars end. With a negotiation around a table. And that's how I'll end this rambling post. With a trip to get another ice pack out of the freezer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My X-Ray Results.

The good news is that I don't have a fracture. However, I do have a separated shoulder. Not Dislocated. I also traumatized muscles in my elbow and wrist, but there's no break.

So, the prescription is that I need to keep it as immobilized as possible, and it will heal after few weeks.

I was going to attend the Afterglow tonight at the University Glee Club, just to see what Dec. 2 is all about, but I'm still in a lot of pain. I can't use my left arm. But I have food for a few meals more, friends volunteering to help me, and my usual stubborn refusal to stay down.

And Jim gets home on Sunday. (Horray!)

He's been having a blast down in Florida. I'm so glad for him. Zero Hour is really starting to become more and more well known in theater circles. Already he has had several theaters contact him for inclusion the post- New York international tour. It's all very exciting.

Here he is on the radio with Jo Anne Pflug.

Jo Ann Pflug with Jim Brochu.

Steve Schalchlin Free Concert Dec. 2, NYC

9:00 PM. ARRIVE 8:45 PM

New York Ethical Culture Society Building
West 64th & Central Park West, 4th floor

I've been asked to sing an "Afterglow" for the University Glee Club of New York City, and I couldn't feel more honored and scared. It's one thing to sing for "civilians." It's quite another to sing for people who really know music. It's a free event for the public, also. So, anyone who would like to attend, get there at 8:45pm.

I know 9pm is a late start for a show, but I promise I won't be doing a 2-hour presentation. I believe Afterglow lasts only about 45 minutes.

I know I'm going to sing "Gabi's Song" and "William's Song" (unless I invite a special guest soloist to do so -- hmmmm) because of all the gay bullying/suicide stuff in the news.

For me, these are my entries in the "It gets better" meme that's been going around, where older gay people tell younger gay people that, no matter how horrible things can get, it does get better if you endure.

Also, "Rescue" has been requested.

Should be fun!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Saw doc. Possible wrist fracture. Not serious, but painful.


I'm staying still. Ice packs. Hot packs.

Right-handed typing.

Many friends said they'd help.

Am finishing up two arrangements for Miami. Adam West Hemming came over to give me an opinion. He arranges and sings for the Marquee Five, a terrific vocal group here in the City. Adam never withholds his opinion, and he makes me laugh.

We both sing in Mark Janas' Christchurch choir in Brooklyn every Sunday morning, making some ridiculously good music, I might add.

I saw John Fischer, too, who helped me change a Finale file. I've gotten so used to Sibelius, I needed some coaching.

Jim and I are video chatting. He is raving about the crew and staff at the Maltz Jupiter.

Okay, now my right arm is tired.

I'll check back in later.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Joel Burns tells gay teens "it gets better"

This is one of the most moving videos testimonials I've ever seen. Watch it all the way through as he begins revealing things he's kept hidden his entire life.

New Images of Jim Brochu as Zero Mostel.

Jim opened "Zero Hour" down at the Maltz Jupiter Theater last night and posted these fabulous new photos. This is my favorite. It looks like a movie still. We have been approached by people who think Zero Hour would make a good movie. 

"In the show, thanks in part to a crafty makeup job,
 Brochu bears an uncanny resemblance to the burly, larger-than-life Mostel. " Hap Erstein.
He wears, for the record, almost no make-up. He uses a pencil and draws "Hirschfeld lines" on his eyebrows after plastering his hair down to look like a combover. I wonder how many make-up artists have used Al Hirschfeld's caricatures as a basis for celebrity make-up? At MGM, I'm told the iconic actresses would come to a photo shoot with zero make-up, and that artists add that later, to the photograph.

Zero Mostel (Jim Brochu) being grilled in front of the House committee. "All of Zero’s testimony in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee is online, a lot of his letters between himself and ( his wife ) Kate, so many articles, interviews...” from PB ArtsPaper.
Jim did a great job of condensing the testimony. It's funny and scary all at the same time, as you realize how easy it is to go from having an opinion, to being blacklisted and an object of suspicion and fear. Zero admits he was a Marxist, but it was because he felt, during the 30s, as did many, that only the commies were opposing the Nazis. Right or wrong, it's what he believed, and he also liked how Franklin Roosevelt kept everyone working when no one could get a job.

"The government gave me paint, and a brush."
People like Mostel were being accused of being foreign agents with an intent to overthrow the government through the use of violence. Absurd. And they were forced to betray their friends who might also have those same political beliefs, or never work again.

Zero took it even more personally. "Commie equaled liberal, and liberal equaled Jew."

His best friend Philip Loeb committed suicide after he was blacklisted.

He would also butter his arm in a public restaurant and ask for more butter, according to Piper Laurie, who also knew him in those days. He was absurd, loud and unpredictable.

I thought about Zero and how wonderful he'd be in this play that just opened on Broadway, a birthday gift from Charlotte Rae, "La Bete," where a very serious playwright character is confronted by an inebriated, besotted-with-himself fool of a playwright. (Mark Rylance in the performance of a lifetime, with David Hyde Pierce, bravely finding a thousands ways to show withering contempt, and who we met afterwards -- nicest person on the planet).

Charlotte Rae visiting David Hyde Pierce backstage after "La Bete."
I was so excited, I forgot to ask for one with myself.
I also reminded David that each time we've gotten major awards in Los Angeles, it's he who ends up either announcing it or giving it to us. (We don't really know each other.)

But the discussion of what's "art" and what's just commercial crap has been going on since the dawn of time. Jim and I, of course, embrace both in TLS, TBV and Zero Hour. We like plays that mean something and that might have an idea or an opinion or a point of view hovering in the background, but we also love a good belly laugh and a little baggy pants.

Oh, and we're not afraid of drawing out a tear or two, either.

Speaking of which, we now have a new production of The Last Session scheduled for the Fall in Norwich, Connecticut, and The Big Voice, maybe even with Jim and myself, is coming to a small theater in Canada next summer, if we can coordinate schedules. And New World Waking is coming to Miami.

I'm more or less staying home, keeping ice on my shoulder. (Frozen Chinese vegetables are almost as good as frozen peas, btw.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Escorting Piper Laurie to the GE Theater Celebration.

I met Piper at the Paley Center for Media to celebrate the ongoing restoration of the General Electric Theater, a classy TV show from the 50s which featured great scripts and great actors doing an original drama every week. Hosted by Ronald Reagan, it gave him the national exposure, combined with his visits to GE factories, that, according to the panelists, was the start of his political career, as he honed his speeches before the workers..

Cliff Robertson greets Piper Laurie in the green room.
I can't say that I was prepared for so much Reagan worship. He was not my favorite president.
Posing for the photogs.
Cliff Robertson, Piper Laurie, William L. Bird, Curator, Division of Political History, Smithsonian Institution,
Edwin Meese, Reagan's Chief of Staff and Attorney General,
Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of GE.
But, the clips from the GE Theater were spectacular. I particularly loved Zsa Zsa Gabor dressed in jewels, as an actress who refuses to dress down for a maid's role.
Reporter Andrea Mitchell, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, Ed Meese.
This photo of Piper comes  from the episode she was in, where she played a child bride of a mountain man.
Piper Laurie, 17, on GE Theater.
Brian Williams was witty and asked good questions.
The entire panel, with NBC news anchor Brian Williams.
Jeffrey Immelt, of course, is Brian's boss. GE owns NBC/Universal.
William L. Bird, Jeffrey Immelt and Brian Williams.

Piper Laurie, Cliff Robertson, Ed Meese, William L. Bird.

Piper Laurie, Cliff Robertson, Ed Meese.

Piper Laurie, Cliff Robertson.
Cliff told us in the green room that when he and Piper appeared together in a TV production of The Days of Wine and Roses, he was expecting her to be what the studio had promoted her to be, a bimbo. "But it turned out she is a great actress and she totally blew me off the screen."
Piper Laurie, Cliff Robertson.

Peggy Noonan, Piper Laurie.
So, it was an informative night. The film canisters from the show were thought lost until someone found them in an attic or something. Now, they're being slowly brought back to life, thank goodness.

Plus, I loved seeing Piper again. She's the best.

A Tearful Visit to Columbus.

"Don't run."

That's what Dr. Anthony told me just as I was leaving his office. So, on Sunday morning, at 4:50am, as I ran to the Newark/Manhattan bus, departing Port Authority at 5am, my back heel hit the carry-on bag, rolling behind me, and I hurtled through the air, hitting the ground hard, my left arm finally hanging useless at my side. 

I determined it wasn't broken, but it hurt like hell. I almost decided to not go. But I couldn't miss this.

Though I wasn't getting paid, people were depending on me, having raised the money to pay for the plane ticket. So, I forged ahead, got to the station just in time, and took off for Columbus to play two concerts for the health care workers at a hospice, and then, later at a hospital.

Getting from Newark was another adventure. Just as we got on the plane, it has a "mechanical," and I had to stand in line, change carriers, go to a different terminal and go through security again. The first time was difficult and painful enough, as I was unable to use my left arm to buckle my belt, lift my carrying case or tie my shoes without screaming.

I went to the other terminal, got the new ticket on a different carrier, stood in line, and was told that the plane would be leaving from the first terminal I had just come from.

Sighing, I went back to the first terminal, went through security, found a pharmacy, got a sling and some motrin, waited two hours and got on the plane.By now, I'm hurting so badly, all I can think is, "How will I ever play the piano?"

When I landed in Columbus, Brian, Sarah's adorable bear husband, picked me up. The kids, who I hadn't yet met, were in the back seat. 

Sarah introduces me at Kobacher House hospice.
I met Sarah -- she was single at the time -- almost from the first day I set up this diary in 1996. In fact, as she introduced me the next morning, at the hospice, before my "show," she reminded me that this Bonus Round site was actually the very first web site she ever logged into, having just gotten her first computer.  

She explained, "At the time, I was working with dialysis patients, and I felt Steve's entries were inspirational. So, I would print them out and read them during the treatments. Then, one day I asked him to come sing for us, and he said yes. This was 10 years ago."

I looked at the 30 or 40 hospice workers sitting in front of me. People who spend their lives tending to the dying. And not just the dying, but the dying and their families. 

Some families, so racked with pain, they can't even speak to each other. Some families, prepared and peaceful. These people work through all that, trying to make sure the patient is comfortable and at peace, while helping the family make "decisions" they usually don't want to make.

Each nurse, aid, doctor and lab tech is a part of this journey, and it takes a huge toll on them. 

And that's why I was there. I went through it all as a patient. My mother was a Registered nurse. My father was a minister. I watched how they ministered to people in pain. I knew the emotional toll it could take on them, long after they left the "office."

Imagine, reader, having a job where every single person you treat dies.

How fast can you fall in love with another human being? And how far to do you allow yourself to care, knowing that person is not going to last very long? Or is constant pain? 

And, speaking of emotional toll, all of us were drenched in tears. At one point, one of the nurses, noticing my kleenex, pilling up on the piano, brought up a trash can. I said "We're gonna need a bigger boat."

These people have created a support system for just the workers. I was so proud to be a part of this program. As a patient, I thanked them for their work, I told them I understood that this kind of work is a calling, and not just a job. 

I didn't think about my arm during the two hour concert. I don't remember feeling pain, but I think it's because my mind was elsewhere. I knew I couldn't play strongly or as percussively as I enjoy. 

Brian made me breakfast, earlier, dressed in a chef's hat.
After the show, Sarah took me back to her house, where I slept all afternoon with Uno, the one-eyed dog. He laid down next to me in the bed and didn't move a muscle until he heard the door open downstairs, when Sarah came home to fetch me for the evening gig.
The venue, at the neighboring Riverside Hospital, was much bigger. And I had a magnificent Yamaha piano. Also, my arm wasn't hurting quite as badly and I was able to play with a big more aggression. It was very exciting.

I didn't cry this time, having gotten it all out in the earlier show. My voice was strong, and I told stories and sang for two hours. We also engaged in a dialogue, as we shared stories and I answered questions.

By the end of the night, after getting about a thousand hugs, we went home, and I miss them, already. I also miss Sarah and Brian and the kids. Talk about falling in love.

Uncle Steve with his two new favorite human beings on earth.

Sadly, though, I came home to an empty apartment. Jim is in Florida doing Zero Hour for the next 10 days at the Maltz Jupiter Theater. (Lucky them!) But, there's lots of things for me to do, including working on a brand new production of New World Waking in Miami by the Gay Men's Chorus down there. But I'll save that for another blog entry.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Filichia: Jim Brochu A Generous Actor.

From today's theatremania column by Peter Filichia.

After Grisetti finished “The Joker” to tumultuous applause, Jim Brochu (Sir) came on to deliver his next line. But Brochu realized that the audience was in no mood to stop applauding, and far be it from him to prematurely take away even a second of it. He waited patiently, looking off into the wings, still in character, acting as if Sir were searching for something he’d misplaced. I love generous actors!
Brochu was equally marvelous, not going over-the-top, which is so easy to do with Sir. He trusted his material, and I trust that everyone enjoyed him as much as I. And, my, for a staged reading, did Brochu know every word of his songs! I surmised that he, like I, listened to the cast album incessantly when it came out in 1965. I asked him about it at the closing night party. “Yes,” he said, “but the reason I really remember it is because during the run I sold orange juice at the back of the Shubert.” Nice to have you out front, Jim.

Random photos in New York.

Me, with Lesley Gore, at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation benefit.
(Jim sang a number with Josh Grisetti.)
Jim Brochu with Richard Kind ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") after a performance of "Zero Hour."

Jim Brochu and Richard Kind.

Asst. Stage Manager Paul Bourgeois with Richard Kind.
(All the celebs want to pose with Paul.)

Times Square, after Scottsboro Boys, about 10pm

This is new! The front of house for "Next Fall," is gone.
(We loved "Next Fall.")

Scottsboro Boys is a Storytelling Triumph.

Why, it's just a hat and cane show, isn't it? The kind that is usually built on corny jokes and silly routines? Isn't rock supposed to be more honest than Vaudeville?

The front of house is very old fashioned.
The colored lights are a great touch.
Thrilling, exhilarating, scary, uncomfortable, innovative, with not a wasted moment on stage, Scottsboro Boys is the kind of incisive and uncomfortable storytelling that leaves all the "entertainments" that have been passing for musicals behind in the dust.

This is how you tell a story.

Toward the end, there's a costume change that I read as a big F-U to the society that pretends to care about justice, but who is really just wanting another diversion until the next one comes along.

Kander and Ebb have never shied away from exposing hypocrisy and shame in our culture, and they don't shy away here.

The Lyceum is one of the oldest theaters on Broadway.
Built in 1903.

Classic style posters.

Jim Brochu ("Zero Hour," "Roar of the Greasepaint")
 You also won't see better performances, nor hear better singing. What a cast!! It's hard to know who to single out, because each performer has his moment to shine -- and just the SOUND of those voices when they harmonize sent shivers all up and down my spine, especially in songs like "Commencing in Chattanooga" where the simple pile of chairs has now been assembled into a train. The joy in their voices as these nine men, who had never met before, were feeling free, and on the road to a better life.

(They were wrongly accused of gang rape by two white women, who didn't want to go to jail for freeloading the train ride.)

Particularly bone-chilling is a hymn to Alabama, sung in the jail cell, that lays waste to every plantation song ever written. You really don't know whether to applaud or not, and that's not because of any fault of the staging. But, the whole story is just so tragic. And yet, here we laughing at it!

Two trial scenes bristle with sharp-edged sarcasm and anger. All of it in ragtime!

This is not a happy minstrel show. This is bone-rattling, nerve-twisting reality that smiles at you while twisting the knife in your gut. And they manage to do it over and over again, all through the piece, until you're left shattered.

Every song has a steely surprise and every scene subverts its show biz trappings. A hat and cane show, dancing and singing with leather electric chair hoods over their heads. It's the kind of thing you imagine Sondheim doing in that you get no quarter (though, of course, Kander and Ebb have been doing this almost from the beginning.)  No chance to just be entertained.

Neither does it merely skewer the easy target country rednecks who ruined these "boys" -- one was 12 -- lives, but also a liberal establishment where the fight for justice for them was little more than the fashionable and tabloid thing to do, forgotten as easily as last year's runway offerings in Paris.

I'm going to be thinking about this show for a very long time. It seems to be about the Scottsboro Boys. But, really, it's about us and what we are, and, maybe what we always have been.

The question is whether we have the courage to look into that musical mirror.

Hat and cane, indeed.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Don't Stop The Greasepaint.

Jim Brochu (Sir) & Josh Grisetti (Cocky) laugh between poses after the
 York Theatre's "Musical In Mufti" performance of
"Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd."
"It's a relationship show," said Sacha Newley, son of Anthony Newley and Joan Collins. It was also his first time to even see his father's show, "The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd."

And it is. And as you can tell from the photograph, Jim Brochu and Josh Grisetti love each other -- and it shows.

Jim Brochu & Sacha Newley, son of Anthony Newley and Joan Collins.
It  was his first time to see "Greasepaint."

Which is why everyone who saw this show, over the weekend, loved the experience, whether they liked "the show itself" or not. I say that because the show has a famously "difficult" book.

At the audience talkback after the afternoon performance of "Roar of the Greasepaint," I asked Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the director, the question, "Why does Cocky come back for Sir at the end, when Sir has done such horrible things to him?"

"Greasepaint" director Marcia Milgrom Dodge
 with Jim Brochu, Sacha Newley & Josh Grisetti.

Jim had said, earlier, to me, "In the play, I make him starve, I rape the girl he falls in love with and I accuse him of murder. What's to come back for? More abuse?"

"I'm going to answer the Jewish way and ask you what you thought," she responded, laughing, to the audience.

Wrapped up on the politics of the piece, I gave some intellectual theory about how the oppressors in society need their oppressees, and that oppressees need their oppressors, maybe out of some sick co-dependency or something.

"The obvious answer," I stated rather declaratively, "is that none of it is real. It's two hobos acting out a surrealist play to show the inequities in society. There was never any chicken for Sir to withhold and the "rape" was about as real as a Snidely Whiplash train gag. Sir is not really Sir. He's a hobo pretending to be Sir. These are two friends who need each other because, alone, they can't put on a show."

A musical "Waiting For Godot" is how some people describe "Roar of the Greasepaint." (And, in fact, it belongs, scholars tell me, to the Absurdist Movement in American theater).

The next night, I was sitting near Sacha, at a benefit for the Dana & Christopher Reeve Foundation, where Jim and Josh performed "Where Would You Be" (from "Greasepaint"). Here it is, taped by someone from the audience:

I asked Sacha if the show, written in 1965, was the first, or one of the first, examples of the melding of theater with confessional singer/songwriter. After all, the book seems almost like a revue. Each song is sung whole with little interruption, usually as a solo, and the dialogue seems to string them together, rather than integrate them into action.

Outside, the pop world was quickly changing. Broadway shows no longer fed the Top 10. Instead, the charts were dominated by the British Invasion, the personal songwriter, which was the antithesis (supposedly) of the old Tin Pan Alley songwriter, whose main motivation for writing a song, as Sammy Cahn once put it, comes from "the phone call."

("What comes first? The music or the lyrics?" He was asked once. "The phone call." He answered.
SIDEBAR: Back a couple of weeks ago, when they were renaming the Philip Loeb Room at Actors Equity, I found a bookcase with some bound volumes of the Actors Equity newsletter. Inside, in an issue from, like, 1923 or something, there was an notice about how ASCAP was formally protesting the use of the vulgar term "Tin Pan Alley" to describe their very professional work and environs. Now, of course, the term is deified.)
Sacha looked intrigued. "My father had a horrible childhood of desperate poverty. When he wrote, he wrote from his personal experience. That's really him inside those songs."

My friend, singer/songwriter Robert Leh, sent me this link -- a very rare performance -- to Newley singing "Who Can I Turn To?". This was taped during the run of "Greasepaint" so he's in full costume -- and probably we're seeing how he performed it on stage.

Notice, despite the theatrical trappings, how the song seems to come from such incredible depths of feeling. His entire life seems to inform every note and every word, even as his exposed hands, looking as big as his head, reach, clutch, and embrace in moves that are pure Vaudeville. Watch him thrust his hand into the air (to God, who has abandoned him?). It's bone-chillingly theatrical, and yet completely honest.

Maybe "Greasepaint" is even more than that. Not just a melding, in and of itself. But perhaps it's also a metaphor for the relationship, itself, of theatre and modern singer/songwriter pop music, which prides itself on being more "real" than "Broadway." Please. You can't get more real than Anthony Newley. Rock and roll (and hip hop) needs Vaudeville just as much as it needs the gritty streets from which it comes.

At the talkback, a woman remarked that Josh Grisetti sounded very much like Anthony Newley when he sang, and wondered if he had done an intentional imitation, or studied his performances to learn how.  (He didn't and hadn't.)

Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge looked startled because it had occurred to anyone on the production team that Josh was "imitating" Newley.

"It's just the cockney accent," she responded. (Josh is on vocal rest and didn't participate in the discussion.).

Later, I was having a conversation with Quentin Earl Darrington, who, in the show, sings one song, the (now) jazz standard, "Feeling Good." "I didn't know the song. I got it on Monday and just started listening to everything. From Nina Simone to Michael Buble, and kept thinking, 'I don't know what they're singing about.' I mean it's a beautiful song, but I wasn't even sure they knew what they were singing about. I couldn't feel anything...

"...until I heard Anthony Newley sing it. And it all fell into place. I just got it."

I got a chill and was reminded of our "Salute to the American Songwriter" concerts at NAS, that the writer, no matter how flawed a voice he or she might have, brings something to a song that, perhaps, no one else can, though I'm not suggesting great singers cannot interpret and make songs their very own.

But, check this link. It goes to several versions of "Who Can I Turn To?" Tony Bennett. Vicki Carr. Two of the greatest singers in the world. But, do either of their performances even remotely approach what Anthony Newley does in that hobo costume and pin spotlight?

On the other hand -- and I have to say it -- Josh Grisetti got there. He really did. I had rivers of tears streaming down my cheeks when, at the end of the play, he comes back for Sir and sings "Sweet Beginnings."

Grisetti, gazing up into the now-helpless and lonely eyes of Sir, as  portrayed by Jim Brochu, raised the hair on the back of my head, and took what looked like sentimental straw, on paper, and spun it into meaningful, emotionally profound gold.

Lots of talk on the theater discussion boards have harshly criticized the book of "Roar of the Greasepaint," saying that they ought to just jettison the books of both this and his earlier his, "Stop the World, I Want To Get Off" (also an experimental, essentially plotless) show, creating a "Stop the Greasepaint" revue. Maybe someone, somewhere, has already done it.

But, I have to tell you. I saw two performances. The first one last Friday night. The last one on Sunday night.

If you had asked me, on Saturday, what I thought of the show, I'd have agreed with the above. Book, dumb! Book, silly! Book, awful! Songs, fantastic! Songs, mesmerizing!

And, yet, today, I'm sitting here wanting to see the whole thing again, from the obviously placed songs that seem suspiciously tenuous in their relation to the plot, to every groan inducing joke.( "I got an eyeful. An eyeful towering above me.")

Jim Brochu & Sacha Newley at the York Theatre's Musicals in Mufti production of
"Roar of the Greasepaint."

Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Jim Brochu, Sacha Newley, Josh Grisetti, TCM host Robert Osborne.
How sad and desperate our lives would be if were to "stop the greasepaint" and rid ourselves of the stories and the theatricality and puts it all into perspective, making us laugh and cry.

It's the relationship that makes "Greasepaint" work. It's "relationship" that makes the world work, especially when it comes with a hat and cane.


We would never have had this experience without Jim Morgan and the York Theatre's "Musicals in Mufti" series. I am providing a link to their website. If you are a reader and you are in a position to make donations to worthy causes, send them a couple of bucks to support this series and tell them I sent you.