A Chicago Story
Volume 3 Book 8 Part 5 of
Living in the Bonus Round

You can get a sense of the vastness of Chicago
and the canyons of buildings.

[ Book 3-7 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]

March 18-19, 2004.
Busy In Chicago.
The weather turned cold again. (Again??). As much as I love this city, it feels like winter just refuses to release its icy grip. All last week, the cold just held on and held on, then it started snowing again. The bitter wind continued to blow and I have to confess, after a month of Indianapolis ice, then tasting the L.A. sun for a few days, I just had this idiotic notion that somehow winter was over.

And the people here kept saying, last week, "Oh, it's gonna warm up next week. It's gonna warm up next week."

But, no, it just got colder. Then the snow fell. At one point my face felt so frozen that my upper lip started twitching even in the warm buildings because it has shivered so much in the icy air.

On Thursday, I tried walking around the neighborhood where the theatre is located but it was just too cold. However, I was able to pick up the Chicago Reader where we received yet another rave review.

"Notwithstanding the minimalist set, it's a little misleading to present this funny, fully realized award-winning musical comedy under the auspices of a workshop program. In fact, writer-composer-performers Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin, who are partners in life as well as onstage, are ringers: The Big Voice is an off-Broadway show running on Belmont...

"Forget about your boredom with coming-out/coming-of-age stories. This double-oddball autobiography is all about joy. These fiftysomething guys are Candide. They're Forrest Gump. Make yourself happy--go."

--Rebecca L. Ford

BUT THEN, on Friday the sun came out. And while it didn't exactly get WARM as in "L.A. warm," the relentless bitterness let up and it felt wonderful. The sky became a glorious clear blue, the sun rays could be felt (if you positioned yourself someplace where the wind wasn't hitting you) and I was totally loving it.

The other thing about this trip is that we are so busy. There is never a moment where we aren't doing something, whether it's promoting the show, doing the show, or rehearsing for next week's performance of TLS or what. e. ver.  And because we're staying way north in Evanston, we have to allow at least an hour to get anywhere.

Thursday night, we had a somewhat spare audience. But oh my god were they enthusiastic. Earlier I had met with Alexandra Billings to rehearse Vicki's vocal parts, then I laid down on the stage to catch a quick nap. Luther from the actor's union came in and we chatted. He said, "Back when I was producing, I refused to even run shows on Thursdays. Chicago audiences just do not materialize on Thursdays. So don't sweat it. You've only been here one weekend. Your show is going to catch on. In fact," he said, "I guarantee you, everyone will wait until the last weekend. They always do for a small budget show like this."

Jonathan Markanday and Lisa Pay drove down from Indy to see us.
Jonathan is wearing sunglasses because he scratched his cornea with a contact lens.

Friday, we got up early to get downtown for a meeting with with Ann Gerber who is a society columnist in town (once again, thanks to Sue Carey who has all but adopted us). We had to switch trains twice but it gave me a chance to take some interesting photos.

The Sears Tower from the subway.

"Flying" between buildings into downtown.

Jimmy was at his storytelling best, talking about Carol Channing (who is currently not speaking to us because she thinks he abandoned her for Bea Arthur at an award's ceremony a couple year's back) and Ethel Merman and, of course, Lucy. (People still can't believe we met Lucy by purchasing a map's to the stars home on Hollywood Blvd.).

We also talked about Jimmy's involvement directing Sue's musical "Africa Plumbridge" (wait till you hear this score; it's absolutely beautiful).

Columnist Ann Gerber, Jim Brochu, Sue Carey.

Oh, I forgot to mention. The Chicago Tribune review that we had found online on Wednesday? It hit the print edition this very morning. So Ann greeted us with, "I saw your review this morning. Wow! That was amazing!" Which was great. We only have this weekend and next weekend to get Chicago's attention. (Am I worried about it? You bet. As happy as I am that we are building up such a sensational portfolio of outstanding rave reviews, I also want to see those seats filled with bodies! It's crazy to be doing what we're doing, you know. To go into a huge city with absolutely no money for promotion or publicity. Oh, well, welcome to the bonus round. We've made a living breaking all the rules. Why stop now! I keep wondering what it'd be like to actually go somewhere with a real budget).

We had a delightful time with Ann. Then we dashed back to the "El" and stood on the platform at the Merchandise Mart stop where I snapped a few more pics.

The riverfront with brilliant American flags lined up in front of the Merchandise Mart.

So many interesting buildings.

Back at the theatre I met once again with Alexandra Billings who will be playing Vicki. She is a very popular actress and nightclub entertainer here. In fact, when they made up the flyers for TLS, it says, "The Last Session, a concert reading featuring Alexandra Billings" in the headline. So I feel really lucky to have her. Just from the short amount of time we've had together, you can tell she really has a bead on the character. I'm so excited to be doing the show with her on Wednesday. The actress playing Tryshia is Neda Spears. She has a fantastic voice. And for Buddy, we're bringing Jon Lambert up from Indianapolis. I can't wait till the Chicago audiences hear him. It's going to be a really great break for him since he's moving here this summer.

Alexandra Billings is Vicki.

Alexandra is also an "out" transgender performer. She's been getting a lot of attention in Hollywood and plans to move there soon to work in film and TV. We had some interesting talks about how transgender characters seem to be in the same place that gay characters were 30 years ago. They are either the murderer, the drug addicted prostitute or they die at the end of the movie or TV show.

But with the new openness toward "gay" (not that all transgender persons are gay -- some are and some aren't), she's been told by her agent that there have been some interesting new scripts floating around with more fully developed characters. I do hope so. But we are lucky to have her.

She went nuts, by the way, when she saw that Jimmy wrote "Lucy In The Afternoon." Apparently, in her house she has everything but a shrine built to Lucy and has all the Lucy books except Jimmy's. Since it's out of print, Jimmy's been buying them when they appear on E-bay and one was delivered just as we arrived at the theatre.

Friday night, the audience was larger and man, there was this one straight couple in the front row. I thought the guy would have a heart attack he was laughing so hard. The rest of the audience followed suit and once again we had a triumphant night. It's so fantastic to have to just wait for people to stop laughing so you can say your next line.

[ Book 3-7 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]

© 1996-2004 by Steve Schalchlin.
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