Houston Texas
Volume 3 Book 4 Part 5 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(The Big Voice Chronicles)

Goofing around at Kemah.
[ 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 5-7, 2003.
Chronicle Raves/Hanging with my Bro.
We had the "second night blues" on Saturday night. It's always the worst time for a new show. Opening night is exciting and the room is usually packed with people and critics and everything else. But the follow-up night is usually a let-down because folks don't quite know we're here yet. We had a good audience but nothing compares to opening night. Plus, now that we know the reviewers have seen us, our fates are in their hands and it's a matter of waiting, waiting, waiting until the notices are posted.

Luckily, though, my brother and his wife Jill had driven up from Austin so we decided, on Saturday to drive down to a place on the gulf coast called Kemah, a little boardwalk. 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 doesn't.

Jim, Scott and Jill.

A few rides which Jimmy described as "pukey."
Beautiful sailboats in the harbor.

We decided to eat at a place all Aquarium,
"An Underwater Dining Adventure."

It's filled with HUGE tanks of fish. The first fish were the strangest.
They were almost transparent and nearly a foot tall.
The waiter (who spoke so fast we could barely keep up),
said all the coral was alive.


But the visit was too short. Scott is my youngest brother and by the time he was born I was already in high school, then off to college before I could really get to know him as a person. But through the years we've maintained a really good friendship. He's the smart one in the family with degrees in psychology and law. I was proud to be at his graduation and at his wedding to Jill.

The sunset in Houston on Saturday was beautiful.

Once again, Sunday evening, we had a smaller audience but they were intense and enthusiastic. Also, as is our custom with this show, we exited into the lobby and shook peoples' hands on the way out. They gave us hugs and told us how much the show meant to them. One elderly man on a cane said he was a United Methodist minister and that he had been instrumental in one of the churches here in helping it become "open and affirming." He said, with a twinkly in his eye "It kept me in a lot of trouble but it was worth it. I loved everything you boys had to say tonight."

Finally, around midnight Sunday night the Houston Chronicle came out with its review. It was wonderful and we went to sleep greatly relieved. I particularly liked the part where they compared my music to James Taylor and Carole King while comparing Jimmy to Paul Linde and Liberace. HA!

A sincere `Voice' speaks up at Stages
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.

[ 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.
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