Houston Texas
Volume 3 Book 4 Part 4 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(The Big Voice Chronicles)

Jim, artistic director Ron, Steve & managing director Kenn
all around the cake.
[ Book 3-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 3-5 ]
April 4, 2003.
Opening Night Photo Album.
As I write this on a cool, overcast Saturday morning I am flooded with the wonderful images of last night. What an explosively exciting opening night. The house was full. The laughs and the applause stopped the show time after time. And now we know, our third "test market" -- the south -- is just as, if not more, accepting of Big Voice than Los Angeles and New York. This bodes really well for the future of the show as we continue to find ways to market what we have.

From the opening lines to the final "So goodbye!" the entire place was with us, totally and completely. Before the show even started, Ron and Kenn showed us the big opening night cake they had done at a Mexican bakery.

Man, I wanted to dig into this. I hate being diabetic!

Outside in the lobby was our poster and the poster for Dirty Blonde,
playing in the theatre next to ours. I love the fact that they have
Mae West on one side and Ethel Merman on the other!
Counting Jim, that's three divas on display.

In our dressing room was an opening night gift.
Lucy chocolates and a big cross
with a beautiful note from Kenn thanking us
for renewing his faith in the power of theatre.

My brother Scott, his wife Jill, me, Nancy Gibbs
and Jimmy at the party afterwards.

And some random shots:

Lighting designer David, Stage Manager Karen, Marketing director Elena.

Kirk designed the sound. Mischa runs it.

Four critics were in the audience so we are crossing our fingers and hope they will give us good reviews, of course. Since this production is a benefit for disenfranchised LGBT youth to help them with scholarship money, I want to raise as much as possible. Coming into town virtually unknown is tough so a lot will be dependent upon what these critics say -- but even more what the audience tells their friends. Hopefully, they'll spread the word and we'll have a sold-out run.

What I do know is that we had a BLAST. Thanks to PFLAG and Stages Theatre, there will be an education for some young lives whose families abandoned them. Now they will have hope, not just from the scholarship funds, but from the fact that there were parents and friends out there who cared enough to help some kids they don't even know. That's what it means to give life. I feel so privileged to be a part of it.

April 5-6, 2003.
Houston Chronicle & Kemah.
Over the weekend, we got to spend time with my brother Scott and his wife Jimmy. We drove out to a place near Houston called Kemah, which is on the Gulf Coast. It was great fun just hanging with my bro and getting to know Jill (who Jimmy calls "terrific") a lot better. She's his perfect match. He thinks he knows everything and she lets him think he knows everything.
A sincere `Voice' speaks up at Stages
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
The Big Voice: God or Merman? is simplicity itself.

The two-man, autobiographical musical at Stages Repertory Theatre consists of just writers/performers Steve Schalchlin and Jim Brochu, their stories and songs, a keyboard and stool, a table and chair.

Yet, this little show is one of those cases in which minimalism works. The stories and songs come from the heart -- and reach the heart, too.

Essentially, The Big Voice tells how two gay men from different backgrounds find each other.

It's also about how Brochu, a Brooklyn-born Catholic, and Schalchlin, a Southern Baptist raised in Arkansas and Texas, begin searching for meaning in their respective religions -- but wind up finding spiritual solace in theater and in their relationship with each other.

Schalchlin and Brochu, who wrote the acclaimed off-Broadway musical The Last Session, premiered Big Voice to good reviews last year in Los Angeles. An off-Broadway production is planned for next season.

The first act tells how the two grew up, each struggling with being different. Brochu humorously recounts his childhood wish to become "the first Brooklyn-born Pope."

His real calling is revealed when he hears the cast album of Annie Get Your Gun, with Ethel Merman. Imagine Brochu's delight when his father reveals that he knows the legendary Broadway star (through a business connection with her father). Thus, the 13-year-old Brochu is taken to the Broadway Theater to see Merman in Gypsy, and what's more, gets to meet her onstage after the show.

It's the first of several encounters with Merman, whose persona becomes Brochu's spiritual touchstone.

Meanwhile, Schalchlin is struggling through adolescence and college. For a time, he plays with a Baptist rock band but that doesn't work out. Unable to tell family and friends the truth about himself, he tries to escape the world of his youth.

Many ups and downs later, the two meet -- Brochu, a passenger on a cruise ship; Schalchlin, the ship's lounge pianist. They hit it off and sail into the sunset -- to a shared life in Brochu's New York apartment.

The second act opens with some of the show's funniest moments as the two discover one another's foibles and idiosyncrasies.

Things turn dark as Schalchlin battles AIDS, which nearly kills him. At Brochu's urging, Schalchlin starts writing songs about his ordeal as therapy. The songs become the basis for The Last Session. Just as the show takes off and its success changes their lives, new medications put Schalchlin on the road back to health. There's an 11th-hour crisis to threaten the couple's relationship, but realizing they are miserable without each other, they quickly get back together.

Though Big Voice at times covers familiar ground, it does so with warmth, humor and an often original perspective. Though it's handled lightly, there's good sense in the show's message that religion is not the only place to look for spiritual fulfillment.

Schalchlin carries a slightly larger share of the singing, performing with a clenched-fist intensity and earnestness. His plaintive music sometimes shows the influence of folkish, soft-pop songwriters such as James Taylor and Carole King. A few of his songs may even qualify as nonsectarian hymns. He certainly conveys a questing air.

Brochu gets a slightly bigger share of the storytelling -- fine, since he's a natural raconteur. He assumes the more traditionally "gay" persona that counts Paul Lynde and Liberace as patron saints -- flamboyant, theatrical, unabashedly hammy, with a dash of smug-cat sarcasm. Recalling one of his TV-commercial acting jobs as a dancing raisin ("I was the gay raisin"), he makes the bit a comic highlight.

The Big Voice speaks in its own voice, authentic and sincere. That's the main reason this little show carries a big punch.

The Big Voice: God or Merman?

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through April 19. Also, 4 p.m. April 19.

Where: Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway

Tickets: $30; 713-527-0123; a portion of proceeds goes to PFLAG-Houston and the PFLAG/HATCH Youth Scholarship Foundation.

[ Book 3-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 3-5 ]
© 1996-2003 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.