Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Toronto Sun reviews "Zero Hour."

John Coulbourn writes:

Jim Brochu tries to get as close as possible to absolute Zero.
And he comes so close, it's positively chilling — a madcap theatrical portrait of the legendary Zero Mostel that is absolutely delightful and, ultimately, deeply moving.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Toronto Star reviews: ZERO HOUR

Richard Ouzounian says, "...the moment Mostel suffers a total creative meltdown on the opening night of Fiddler on the Roof, as he suddenly comprehends how the story of the show mirrors his own troubled life too closely, makes for a piece of theatre about as moving as anything you’ll find around today.

I was fortunate enough to see Mostel several times in his prime in New York, and Brochu captures him to perfection. It’s not an imitation, it’s a total immersion in the man that almost defies belief.

This is acting on the grand scale, full of blood and guts and glory and if you care about theatre, or about the evils that people have done (and still continue to do) in the name of politics, then you must see this show.

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Song: Every Day, A New Amen.

At Salon on Sunday night, I brought a bunch of copies of the harmonies for my newest song, "Every Day, A New Amen," written with Mark Janas. Since the fabulous vocal group, Marquee Five, were the guests that night, I think we sounded great. I included the lyrics on the video. If you like the song and want to sing it, you can download the sheet music. If you're not a singer, download it and give to one. :)

A Happy Monday Smile.

I was happy today because one of my friends, Linda, was in town. Her husband was getting recognition for his work in physics, so they were staying in Times Square. I took a few snapshots on the way there of the new production of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" starring Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself. It opened last night and he got generally good reviews, especially for someone who wasn't really a singer or dancer until now.

Linda and I had matzo ball soup at the Polish Tea Room. It was delicious.

A Sunday Morning Sad Face.

43rd street between 9th and 10th.
Finally, the snow is gone.
43rd looking toward 10th.

Down in the Village, I exited the subway to find these signs all over.

Ah, they're doing a street fair!

People setting up.

Times gets there first.

No parking, but I guess you can trash your bike here.
But this was the bad part. I got to the Starbucks, where I always sit in the big comfy chairs in the window. But when I get there, no chair. Instead, I find this:

A big table with hard chairs around it.

Me sitting on a hard chair.
Oh, and I shaved off my mustache & goatee.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BOOK OF MORMON opens tonight on Broadway.

One of the more fun aspects of seeing a Broadway show, especially one that is as culturally and religious (and hysterically) resonant/explosive is that you get to deliver the news before anyone else. Unlike a movie, where millions see it, a Broadway show can only do, at most, a few thousand people at a time, if that.

Tonight, to great publicity and a box office line around the block -- three hour wait for standing room or cancellations -- the BOOK OF MORMON, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez. I don't know any of these people, personally, but I did see Matt Stone, standing in the back, taking it all seriously the night we were there, very early in the previews before the publicity caught on. (Unlike many rock star Broadway composers who can't be bothered to be around their own show while it's still in gestation.)

In many ways, a lot of the recent contemporary work done on Broadway, in my opinion, has felt more dilettantish than serious. What I love about Matt Stone is he's in the back and he's working on it as furiously and as heart-poundingly as any of the great songwriters of yore. It's really refreshing. This is not a cynical attempt to get cheap laughs.

It has paid off in the show, because it manages to use every "worn out" musical theater trope, but makes you believe them. They're not sending up musicals. They're not even sending up Mormons, really. Well, yes, they are. But, it's in the context of the instinctive capacity humankind has for creating and believing in myths that facilitate survival.

For all its ferocity, THE BOOK OF MORMON is going to disappoint people who were hoping for a completely iconoclastic buttfart on the whole Broadway community. But it's not. And that's why I like it so much.

But, mostly I like it because I was laughing so hard, so long and painfully, that I'm still laughing at things I saw that night, two weeks ago.

What a great relief.

Ding dong!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Our Impromptu Night's Dream

Eve Best gives us notes in her fairy costume.

Stephen Wallem tied plastic bags around his waist to make a fairy costume.

I went up to TV and stage star, Eve Best ("Nurse Jackie") just before our thrown-together "production" of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was to begin and said, "Look, if you'd rather give my line to a real actor, I wouldn't mind."

I had been assigned the character of Egeus, which I kept calling "Egregious." According to the "cut to the bone" script we were using in order to make this thing come in under 90 minutes.

"No, darling," she responded in her soft and warm British accent, "I want you to do it."

I only had one line: "Full of vexation come I...!"

"Well, how do I say this?"

"Be cross and be fast."

I should explain, it wasn't exactly a show for an audience. It was the first time most of us had seen each other, though many or most seemed to know our host/producers, Stephen Wallem (Steve) and Eve (Emily) Best. I'm not sure how it began, but I think it was Emily's idea. She shared it with Steve. I brought in Jim to play Peter Quince, Mark Janas, playing the piano with me, and Jake Wesley Stewart, as Lysander, a studly young man.

The idea was to celebrate the coming of Spring by doing this Shakespearean romp in the woods at the Players Club, spread out all over the parlor, in front of the giant fireplace, beneath the portrait of Edwin Booth, the great Shakespearean actor whose brother assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

In fact, Steve and Emily's invitations said everyone should dress like fairies, bring wine or other drink, and, if possible, kids and family members.

The show was a hysterical blast, with all of us laughing and applauding and singing together. And I thought I did my line very well!

Jake serenades a fairy.

Jim Brochu with our friend, Barbara Spiegel.

Posing with Eve.
Barbara Spiegel, Steve Schalchlin, Eve Best, Jake Wesley Stewart, Jim Brochu.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Adding Insulin, pt. 2

Yesterday, after getting home from church, I had this weird, weird feeling in body. It's like something was in my chest trying to claw its way out -- and I felt hot and flush. It was all I could do to lie down on the couch and just stay still.

We had tickets to what Jim said was a lovely revival of "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn," produced by the Peccadillo Theatre Company, but I literally couldn't move. I didn't have a fever or anything, but I knew I couldn't sit up in a seat.

Later, when I spoke with Mark Janas, he said it sounded like a Niacin flush.*** And it kind of did. I've had those before, but I had taken my prescription Niacin hours and hours before -- and never had this kind of reaction. So, I don't know what it was.

The thing is that I take so many drugs for so many things, it could be they were all having a party in my body and forgot to send me an invite.

I finally fell asleep, and when Jim home, it had mostly passed, but not entirely. I still felt this weird tenseness in my chest. So, sadly, I skipped the Salon and just stayed on the couch, drifting in and out of sleep all evening long.

I was also wrestling with the new insulin regimen. When I began it, the instructions were to start with 10 units at bedtime, ramping up 3 units every three days until I finally got it under 120.

But, strangely, for the first week, the results stayed absolutely the same: 185, 175, 187, 180. etc. I dialed the injector pen up to 13 and then 16. Same results. 186, etc.

So, Jake asked me if I had let it get down to room temperature, that his mother takes insulin and that when it gets to room temp, it's no good anymore. Well, yes. On that first day, I had taken the pen down to the hospital to learn how to use it, and had left it in my pocket all day, no getting it back into the fridge until that evening.

So, I found the instruction sheet and discovered an even more puzzling set of instructions. According to this, once the pen has been used, then you're SUPPOSED to leave it at room temperature and NOT re-refrigerate it until it is used up. (There were instructions for three different kinds of injector pens, all with different instructions).


So, I threw away the injector pen I had been using and started fresh with a new one last night, dialing it up to 16 units.

This morning, my blood sugar was 140.

Much, much better. And that was after a meal of Chinese food that was a little bit high on the carb side. So, this time I'm leaving the injector pen in the drawer and not putting back in the fridge, per instructions. And we'll see how well it works tonight.

There's an additional problem I'm having, though, and that's trying to figure out where to inject the insulin, which needs to be done subcutaneously, into the lining of fat just below the skin.

The problem is that one of the side effects of my AIDS drugs is lipodystrophy, which strips the fat from beneath your skin in your face, legs and butt. The insulin isn't supposed to be shot in a place where lipodystrophy has occurred, which is my whole body, essentially.

If I pull my skin up in my fingers, it's as thin as tissue paper. Meaning I can't grab a big handful and push it up to make a nice cushion. Beneath that skin is just muscle.

So, at this point, I think I'm doing it right. But it's really hard to tell. Jim can't really help me, as much as he wants to.

It's just another instance where I'm "going it alone" and trying to do the best I can. Meanwhile, though, 140 is not bad. I'll do 16 units again tonight and if it's not below 120, maybe dial it up to 19 units the night after.

**EDIT UPDATE: The Niacin was not the issue. How do I know? Because, somehow, I had neglected to refill that prescription. The list of refills is so long, it just got by me. So, now I have no idea what yesterday was about.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Worldwide Choir?

He heard the music in his head and then conducted it in silence on video. Hundreds of singers all over the world sang to his conducting, also on video, and he put them together into a virtual choir.

I want to steal this idea. I love it so much. As the music began playing, and the different faces of the singers began to flash, each in their own little window, I actually got a little teary-eyed. The first video tells how he did it. The second video is the song itself.

h/t: Nevski

An Equinox "Dream."

It came as an email from Nurse Jackie's Thor, Stephen Wallem, who I spoke of just a couple of blog entries ago. You remember he sang "Rescue" at the Broadway Goes to the Dogs benefit.
Hey Steve! Would you happen to be free tomorrow afternoon to participate in a preliminary workshop that Eve Best and I are doing? We're developing a musical version of "Midsummer" and we need open, creative souls to participate. I will be playing the world's largest Puck as well as taking charge of the musical side of the piece...Eve (or Emily, which is her real name) is THE most positive person you will ever meet...I know this is last minute, but we're having a tough time finding musicians who are willing to volunteer a couple hours...would you be free/interested tomorrow from maybe 2-4 or 4-6?
I had no idea what they had in mind, but my response was quick and to the point.

"I'm in. Tell me what you want me to do."
Eve Best.
Mark Janas at the piano.

Stephen Wallem working with Mark Janas.

Stephen Wallem.
Eve Best.
Mark Janas, Stephen  Wallem, and me.
Eve Best, for those who know theater, is one of the finest stage actors around. If you have seen "Nurse Jackie," you know her as Edie Falco's character's best friend, a British doctor.

I asked him what they had in mind and he said that it was a last minute idea dreamed up by Eve, to gather a bunch of actors at the Player's Club and do an impromptu version of Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream," with songs added just to make it all that much more fun.

Knowing he was used to doing this sort of thing with his students from Manhattan School of Music, I called Mark Janas and asked him if he wanted to join in. I mean, I could fumfer around with this sort of thing, but Mark and his students are always taking operas or other narratives and turning them into presentations for schools to teach younger kids about opera. Plus, he's a much more trained musician than I am.

Happily, he was free. So, we met at the community room at the Westbeth Center down in the lower west Village, near the Hudson, and the four of us sliced through "Dream," laughing and dancing and having more fun that human beings should be allowed.

It was all completely mad.

As Mark and Stephen worked, Eve and I started dancing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Last Session, Viewed Historically.

Jim was surfing around the other day and discovered a new book covering the history of Off-Broadway in New York.

It's called "Off-Broadway Musicals since 1919 from GREENWICH VILLAGE FOLLIES to THE TOXIC AVENGER" by Thomas S. Hischak.

Naturally, we had to look up The Last Session and, along with a history and synopsis of the show, they Hischak said this:

Of the various musicals about the AIDS epidemic that surfaced in the 1990s, this one may not have gotten much attention but many consider it one of the best. 
The songs by Schalchlin were incisive, potent, and avoided sentimentality, the driving rock music keeping any of them from becoming maudlin laments or angry diatribes. Gideon argued “At Least I Know What’s Killing Me,” Tryshia praised “The Singer and the Song,” Buddy offered the ballad “Going It Alone,” and Gideon and his friends reflected on AIDS support groups in “The Group.” Perhaps the most disturbing number was “Somebody’s Friend” about all the false rumors circulating about a cure for the disease. Musicals about AIDS do not do well outside of large cities, and The Last Session was no exception. Yet the quality of the score is unmistakable.
Wow! What a great write-up.

One thing, though. TLS may not have had a large NUMBER of productions "outside of large cities," but in nearly every single smaller theater where it has appeared -- Norwich, Omaha, Rochester, NY, etc. -- it was not only a smash, but reports came back that it became the most beloved and popular show they'd ever produced.

No brag, just fact. Omaha extended it and revived it, garnering 10 awards. Rochester has done it several times, and the Spirit of Broadway Theater is bringing it back after having only produced it a couple of years ago.

It's producers who assume, because it is about AIDS, that end up rejecting the piece. But when they do produce it, the results are spectacular.  This has happened everywhere it's ever played.

And that's just the truth, kids.  

Thor to the Rescue.

Stephen Wallem singing "Rescue."
They call him Thor on the Showtime series, Nurse Jackie. He’s a nurse, and is one of Jim’s and my favorite characters on the show.

His real name is Stephen Wallem and our mutual friend, Ralph Lampkin, introduced us via email last year, because Stephen was moving from Chicago to New York, saying that he’s a really good singer.

Not having heard him, and since we were also making the move to New York, I didn’t get to chance to really hear him until a month or so ago, when he and Nurse Jackie star, Edie Falco, did a cabaret act -- called something like, “The Other Steve And Edie” -- at the Laurie Beechman Theater, near our apartment. (They were fabulous together, and he’s a seriously talented singer and comedian, and writer).

So, last week, I saw his name on a poster for a benefit concert for a rescue shelter program. Called Broadway Goes To The Dogs, I decided to send him the music for “Rescue,” blithely telling him that he should learn it and sing for this concert, which was only a few days away.

I got a note back immediately. “YES!”

I didn’t get to see the concert, but I did get a note saying that it went really well, and that a DVD is being edited. I cannot wait to hear it. But, how lovely that he would so immediately respond.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Adding Insulin.

I love this picture of Jim, doing a Russian pose.

As I sat in the waiting room at the hospital clinic, waiting my turn, a man walked in wearing very silly clothing, balancing a plate on a stick.

He looked over at me and said, “I LOVE THAT BOOK!”

He was referring to “The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto, a book I cannot put down. It’s a history of early Dutch Manhattan, one that was lost for a very long time due to the fact that the English were at war with the Dutch and they wanted to make it seem as if they invented the United States -- and one that is still be translated from stacks and stacks of old Dutch documents uncovered in recent years.

I was a bit startled by the attention, but the invader went back to twirling the plate on the stick. He was very funny. I whipped out my video camera, but he said he did not want to be posted on the Net. However, I could shoot it just to prove to my friends that I was seeing what I was seeing.

I learned later that he is the clown for the pediatric clinic, and the four women who man the front desk at the clinic love it when he drops by. Usually, the clinic is filled to capacity with people, waiting their turn to see a doctor.

The moment of lunacy and joy is welcome in a place where most people are feeling sick or scared of doctors and institutions.

I have been to this place when it was packed to capacity and tensions are high as people wait for their turn. The women behind the desk all stay very cool and manage to do coordinate everything really efficiently, with equipment that I don’t believe is the latest in high tech design.

When my name got called -- after a waiting period to get my blood tests from my primary clinic -- I met with a very attractive. young female Asian intern (?) who took my health stats and asked a bunch of questions, like what medications do I take.

I hate this question. The list is long and I can never remember the names of everything, not to mention the dosages. I had a list in my wallet, but it wasn’t there.

“There’s the little blue one for blood pressure, but it used to be a different color. It’s a generic”. Or is that the thyroid pill? Actually, they’re both blue and so is one of my diabetic pills.

It can be very confusing to be a walking chemical experiment.

Eventually, after she took some vitals and asked a few questions, “What do you take THAT for??” a rather hurried middle aged doctor came in, but he got a phone call, so he turned me over to a more senior doctor who I immediately fell in love with.

I mean, right out of central casting. He had bushy eyebrows and a kindly crinkle in his face.

She looked down at her notes and began reporting, “The patient is 57, has AIDS, diabetes and...”

He listened to the list and started peppering her with questions. She was clearly trying to maintain control as he corrected her assumptions, or questioned her recommendations, all part of the game.

It was an episode of HOUSE!

The sum of it all was that I was maxed out on pills, that my A1C was now over 9, and too high, and that it was time to start me on insulin injections, news I was prepared for, but not really excited about.

“Start with 10 units. One shot every evening before bed. Test your blood in the morning. We need to get it under 120. Do it for three days, get the average. If it’s still too high, increase the dose by 3 units. And do this every three days until you get it under 120.”

I think my mind started to wander at bit at this moment, though I was concentrating really hard and even repeating instructions back to them, verbatim. Mouth moving. Mind in Miami, thinking about New World Waking and how the rehearsals are going.

10 units. 120. Three days. Three units more. Come back on Friday and a nurse will teach you how to do the injections. This was Wednesday.

On Friday, the nurse strapped this pin cushion to her leg. She took the demonstration injection pen -- I hadn’t needed to bring mine along, though I had it with me -- and dialed it up to 10, then 50 and 100 to show me how easy it is to get the proper dosage.

She handed the pen to me. When you roll it, the numbers fly by and it sticks out more from the end of the pen. It was kind of fun, to tell you the truth. I had this feeling, suddenly, of being more in control of my blood sugars.  

Someone asked me how I keep up such a good face -- and the answer is I don’t think about it. It just is. Also, there is always someone worse off, and I should be grateful for what I do have.

Like Japan, just now, with a tsunami and earthquake. Nuclear plants collapsing. Christ, the entire earth was thrown off its axis.

The images of tidal waves and the reports of thousands of dead. It makes all the stuff in the Middle East seem kind of stupid. In Japan, the earth buckles -- and over in the MIddle East, all the problems are man made.

Those types of problems -- the type that have to do with how human beings treat each other, and who has the most power, money and influence -- can be changed in an instant if, suddenly, everyone just stopped, took a look around, sat across from a table, and came to a mutually and collectively fair agreement.

Peace with justice. Justice with peace.

In fact, in this book about Manhattan, we’ve arrived at one of the moments that changed the course of human history, was when a philosopher named Grotius suddenly put out the idea that man’s natural state of nature was peace, not war. Until then, the author states, everyone in history just assumed that you had to always be at war with someone, always in alliance with some against another.

This was also how the Indian nations around this area functioned. If you signed an agreement for a piece of land, you could live on it, and their tribe could hunt on it, but you had signed yourself up as an ally against whichever this Indian tribe deemed as “enemy.”

For the first time, Europeans sat around a table, decided to end all their wars, which they did, kind of, and went on their merry way.

We know, of course, that that agreement did not end War. But it did prove that reasonable people, if prodded, and with a little faith, can stop shooting each other, at least for a little while. And they can do it by just making the decision to stop. A change of mind.

In Japan right now, they cannot fix things by changing their minds.

And now I realized I’ve gone far afield, but there is a point.

I told Mark Janas, yesterday morning in the cab as we were zipping down to Bay Ridge, where I sing in Mark’s choir at Christchurch Episcopal, that I remembered telling the POZ Magazine reporter, Degen Penner, that I felt sometimes like an old tire being reinflated.

After three days, my morning blood sugar has been testing in the 160 - 180 range. So, last night I dialed up to 13 and tried again.


Hm. I wonder if I should raise the unit level more quickly?

This is on 57th street, but since we're going to Brooklyn...
Jersey looks beautiful this morning, the sun hitting the buildings as it rises.
I want to have a show here some day.
Times Square, going to Christopher Street. I took the 3 train.
We stopped here at 14th Street. I changed to the 1.
Now, I'm back at the Starbucks, sitting in the window.
...reading my book, waiting for Mark and James.
Our choir robes are in these closets.
I think these robes are for a different congregation that meets here.
Mark Janas and Fr. Jeff meet to look through the music.
Lent has started and now the music changes a bit.
There I am looking down at the music.
Flagg Court. Where Jim grew up, across the street from the church.
On the way back home, we walk to the subway on 3rd. We pass these row houses.
Not the biggest front yard in the world, but you work with what you have.
And down into the subway back to Manhattan.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Look! Harry Potter's doing a Broadway musical.
Everyone has been saying that he's really good.
Statue of George M. Cohan in Times Square.
TV and movie star, Maxwell Caulfield, in town doing CACTUS FLOWER,
playing with Steinbeck.

Hell's Kitchen (now called "Clinton.")

Jake Wesley Stewart is growing his beard for a movie role.
We had lunch together at the Polish Tea Room.
Looking out the window of the Cafe Edison AKA the Polish Tea Room.