I Married Ethel Merman
Volume 3 Book 2 Part 1 of
Living in the Bonus Round

On the church yard in Henderson Kentucky.
Zion United Church of Christ.

[ Book 3-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] -- [ Book 3-3 ]

October 14-25, 2002.
Start of Vol. 3, Book 2.
We open Book 3-2 ("I Married Ethel Merman") with great news and a near disaster.

The first review of The Big Voice is in. And not only is it a very GOOD review, but it's in Variety (aka the Bible of Show Business). (Everytime I think of Variety, I think of the "Lucy Goes To Hollywood" episodes of I Love Lucy, which is where I first heard of it.) When the review appeared online, Jimmy, Todd and I gathered around the computer and cringed as Todd read it out loud. It was so positive, we just kept waiting for the "but..." and it never came.

Todd joined us at the radio station.

Then next night, we were invited by that critic, Julio Martinez, to appear with him on his radio show called "Arts In Review."

My camera suddenly started making this weird clattering noise in the studio. Poor Todd, who was taking pictures gave it to me. The sound engineer was going nuts. I'm afraid it might be on its last legs. Time to start a new camera fund!

As I was writing this long-delayed entry, another review hit. Backstage West came out with a total RAVE by Les Spindle:

"Just as The Last Session jump-started the genre of intimate pop musicals, this new show presents a marvelously fresh approach to the autobiographical musical revue."

"Schalchlin's splendid new score is strongly reminiscent of Session... His trademark style offers an intoxicating blend of irony, poignancy, and folk-song sensibility."

"Having an openly gay married couple--referred to as "the gay Burns and Allen" by a friend--headline a show of this type is a mildly revolutionary event."
I could go on and on with quotes from this review. The good part of having these two reviews -- Variety and Backstage West -- is that they are trade publications so industry people read them and they give us great artistic credibility. The downside is that they don't reach the general public. Still, we can use these quotes as we endeavor to reach more audience.

The other good news is on the health front. I've been off the PTL (a nasty pill that I HATE taking) for four weeks now and my thyroid hormone level is still normal. This means my Grave's Disease is probably in remission. However, there are still antibodies in my bloodstream so it could recur and go back to attacking my thyroid (and/or eyes). So the question is whether we take this moment to zap the thyroid.

The endocrinologist had cautioned against doing it while the disease was active saying that if the antibodies no longer had the thyroid to attack, then they might go after my other eye. However, my eye doctor said that there's no causal link between the eye disease caused by Grave's and the thyroid, that they occur independently of each other, so he cautions against doing anything to the thryoid with the expectation that it would help the eyes.

And if you understood that, you have permission to explain it to me. I wish medical decisions were easy.

It was a great honor for me to be invited back to Peace with Justice Weekend. Longtime readers and fans know that this is where I confronted the "God hates fags" protesters last year, writing about it on the Beyond The Light CD. This year, because I had to be back in time to go on Saturday night, I could only stay the one day.

Zion United Church of Christ. Signs in the yard.

But it was glorious seeing so many faces I knew from before. Unfortunately, the leaves hadn't turned yet so I couldn't bring back pictures of fall foliage.

Streets of Henderson Kentucky.
It's still a miracle to me that they do this event every year, considering the fact that they invite liberal peace activists and people of faith to what is, essentially, a very small conservative community. I don't know if the ugly protesters were out this year as I couldn't stay for the whole event.

Something I did do was to duck into a used book store and bought a copy of a book I've always wanted to read, "Childhood's End" by Arthur Clarke. It's a seminal SciFi novel. I really loved it, too. On the plane back from Henderson I got into a conversation with a woman sitting next to me and I gave it to her after I finished it. She, in turn, came to see our show that Saturday night.

And what a night that was. It started out as a total disaster. First of all, the place was packed to the gills. So much so that we had to put up folding chairs. To enter, we had to step over a seeing-eye dog who was lying on the stage.

We moved into position, the sound cue started with thunder and rain, the "voice of God" started -- Robert Mandan -- and then... total silence. The whole thing just stopped dead in its tracks. So we stood there. And stood there. And stood there.

Finally, Jimmy quipped, in a very comical tone of voice, "I think there's a technical glitch."

Lights go up. I run off to the booth. The whole sound system went out. What to do? Since the keyboard is electronic, we need the sound system. We have sound cues! In the booth we have Jeramy, Gary and Marlana all crowded in trying to figure out how to fix it. So we start running scenarios. How can we pull this off??

Meanwhile, Jimmy is on stage telling jokes. "Did you hear the one about...?" and I'm sitting at the piano playing it like I'm playing Beethoven, hoping the sound will suddenly just switch on. But nothing works. Jimmy runs out of jokes. We tell everyone to just hold on for a moment.

Gary says he has a boombox upstairs we could use for the sound cues. I say, "If only we had a guitar amp, I could plug the keyboard into that!" Marlana remembers that one of her roommates is a musician. So Gary goes out onto the stage and asks everyone to take a 20 minute break, go get some coffee, and we'll be back.

Marlana runs home and brings back a guitar amp the size of a postage stamp. We plug it into the wall. It works. We rig up the boombox. It works. IT'S LIVE THEATRE!! Then we all run outside and start gathering up audience members. All but about four have stayed.

Here's an email Jimmy got from a friend, Tom Waldman describing the night:

I am half-Jewish, half-Episcopalian, a full-time secular humanist, a practicing heterosexual, and I think the Big Voice is splendid.

The pacing was exceptional, and I have not laughed so hard at a musical since attending a bad high school production of "Sweet Charity" in the 1970s. Come to think of it, I laughed silently that night out of respect to the cast. You and Steve win the honors.

Did I say I enjoyed the music? I enjoyed the music.

And I especially liked the bit at the beginning when the sound system fails, and you have to crack a few jokes, and then Steve goes to the keyboard and pretends to play. Magnificent touch!

Wait, a call is coming through.


I'm sorry.? You say that the sound system failing was not part of the show? Are you serious?

Do you mean to tell me it was not planned? That Steve and Jim improvised that stuff?

Thanks for calling. Bye.

Tom returns to the e-mail.

I'm so embarrassed Jim. I had no idea.

Of course, this makes the evening even more extraordinary.

It occurred to me sometime in the second act that next time you run the sound through a small amp, you might want to retitle the show "The Not-As-Big Voice". Just a thought.

One last line (I can't resist).

I would like you and Steve to write a musical based on San Fernando Valley politics and call it The Last Secession.

October 26 - November 26, 2002.
Catching Up With Olympic Steve.
Well, it's been over a month since my last entry. Jimmy and I have been almost totally focused on marketing The Big Voice; and I've been very focused on my physical health, hitting the gym every day, getting lots of good sleep and nutrition.

Luckily, in marketing, we've been helped along the way with some very loyal fans who bring friends nearly every weekend. But also by the reviews, which have been uniformly fabulous.

In fact, we have not received a single bad review yet, although several have suggested a moment or two that could be improved -- and the LA Times reviewer, who hadn't seen TLS indicated that he wished we had included a song from that show so he'd know what we were talking about in TBV.

But all the quibbles were tiny and, really, more a matter of opinion than some kind of deadly flaw in the show. Also, we've been mailing out packages to theatres around the country lining up venues for a national tour and on Saturdays, we've been out handing out flyers.

Now that we're running this show and about to embark on a national tour, my set routine never varies:

The cats wake me up at 5 am because they have not figured out that daylight savings time has ended. Sometimes I just put them out of the bedroom, close the door real fast and go back to bed (usually after show nights).

But I'm awake so I lie there pretending to be asleep (occasionally engaging in lucid dreams like the one that brought Dickie back the other morning). When that wears off, I go upstairs to my messy loft, get a huge glass of water for hydration and either work on The Big Voice, music or I work on Internet stuff: answer emails, read news, blogs, try to keep up on politics, chat with friends.

Then about 8:30 am I start coffee for Jimmy and begin my first of two breakfasts, first one being oatmeal unadorned with fruit because my blood sugar has been running high (and we've switched drugs, adding Actos 45mg).

At 9 am, I bring him his coffee with the paper, the cats have been fed and are a lying around on the floor like drunks in a gutter staring up at me with the little paws folded over, oblivious of how funny and beautiful they are at the same time.

I wake Jimmy up and turn on Regis and Kelli for him in bed. This wakes him up. (He likes watching it because he's a New Yorker and it is taped on Columbus Ave. near where we used to live. For him it's like being in Manhattan every morning.) I then give him a glass of water and his coffee. Then I make second breakfast.

My diet is very specific because of the sky-high blood cholesterol and diabetes that is a result of the AIDS drugs. So I eat the oatmeal because of the cholesterol but it tends to raise my blood sugar so I've been experimenting with the amount. (I have now found that if I keep to 2/3 cup, dry, of oatmeal, it's about right.)

Second breakfast consists of a protein. I switch back and forth between fake eggs, fake bacon and fake jelly on toast -- and fat-free cottage cheese with apple. I watch a bit of TV with Jimmy, the cats join us and this becomes one of our little family times, when it's just us being together doing nothing.

After that I go to the gym.

Dr. BloodSugar and Dr. AIDS have decreed it, demanded it, ordered it and though I fight it tooth and nail, I go. (Next door to my gym is a second hand clothing store that supports an AIDS Foundation, so that's where I get my gym clothes and something to read. The shirts and shorts usually cost a dollar.)

At the gym, I hit the stair climber. Pump up the heartbeat and get rid of the sludgeblood. I bring a book to try to alleviate the sheer boredom of this. Only a few times have I touched that other side where the thing itself, the exhilaration of the exercise, felt good. Usually, I go with the worst atttude, like being dragged to piano lessons. (I hated those, too. Thank you, mom, for not letting me quit.)

Every other day I work the upper body on weight machines. I hate doing this too but I figure if I'm climbing six days a week furiously for 20 minutes or so, that's enough leg stuff. I actually have very nice thighs, thank you very much.

Anyway, I slog through this -- with my book in hand -- talking to no one (not being a gay gym, everyone is really serious and I don't feel comfortable amongst towering straight jocks). I guess that's a side effect of being raised in the extreme rural South. I'm always afraid some redneck will learn my secret and hunt me down on some backwoods dirt road.

After the gym, I've had it. I come home, tired, we have lunch and watch All My Children -- which is really boring right now; I can't stand Edmund -- I fall asleep and sometimes sleep all the way through to 4 or 5. That's about all the energy I have for the day, although I usually spend a couple more hours on computer before dinner and going back to sleep on the couch after a couple of hours of family time (usually in front of the TV).

On show nights, it's a bit different. I take it easier during the day and by showtime, I'm so buzzed and wired and ready to be on the stage, I sit up in the dressing room impatiently waiting for Jeramy to announce, "Places!"

Each night is a different show and, especially for an LA show, we've run an amazingly long time already given that  we began the workshops back in September. Already, we've extended twice to Dec. 29.

Anyway, because this hasn't varied very much, I haven't written much in the diary. This is what I've been doing for a month. I feel like an Olympian training for a marathon. We have a few offers for our tour dates but I can't reveal them until they are set in stone, but look out, east coast!

[ Book 3-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [Pt 10 ]
© 1996-2002 by Steve Schalchlin.
You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.