Musical Insurgency
Volume 4 Book 2 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(Part 6)

[ Book 4-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]  -- [ Book 4-3 ]

October 4 (thru 16), 2004.
Million Dollar Birthday.
I turned 51 today.

And we celebrated my birthday by standing in line all day.

Yes, last month, when we knew we'd be in New York, we made reservations to take the contestant test for "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." If you passed the test, then they'd interview you personally. But first we had to pass the test.

No. First we had to stand in line.

They gave us forms to fill out.

After we stood in one line, they told us to get lost for a half hour, so we walked down to Central Park West where I saw my first Segue. Two people on little mechanical scooters.
They ushered us upstairs across the street into a testing room. Little white tables with chairs all around. And at each chair, one of these:
Then this cute producer guy came in and told me that I couldn't tape the during the test. I was surprised they let me tape as much as I did.
I thought the test was pretty easy but I had to guess on questions about art history. After the test, we left the room and went back across the street and stood in line again. My feet were REALLY starting to hurt. I have peripheral neuropathy and when I stand for a long time, my feet start to feel as if they're on fire. Naturally, I ragged on Jimmy relentlessly about making me spend my birthday standing in line.

Suddenly, as we stood there, Jimmy saw two people walking their dogs. He said something. Turns out that this guy is an old friend of Jim's. Brian Davies played the role of Hero in the original production of "Forum," which also starred Jim's "uncle" David Burns.

And Brian's wife? Erica Slezak who plays Vicki on "One Life To Life". Celebrities!

They talked about Davy. David Burns stories are the best. He said and did things that a person could not do nowadays -- and everyone loved David Burns. Like he would get totally naked and walk into an interview -- this little old man.

Finally, it was time to go in. Jimmy said, "The set always looks smaller in person." And I said, "I think it's actually larger than I imagined." We sat right in the front row. The comedian came out and announced that we would now watch two live tapings of "Millionaire." At the end of the second show, they'd announce the names of those who passed the test. I said something at one point and the comedian immediately took a disliking to me.

I sat there thinking that it's a brilliant idea to make people sit through two tapings to hear their test results. Part of the fun is the fact that as you watch that person sitting in the chair, you imagine how it would feel for you. Still, the comedian was very specific about the different levels of applause and laughter that was necessary to make the show exciting. He said, "We don't use audience sweetening. Your voices will be the only voices on that show."

The two shows went rather quickly. A couple of times they went back and re-recorded a question if Meredith had screwed up a pronunciation.

After that first show, they took a quick break and moved the audience around so we'd look like a different audience. In our case, they moved us directly behind Meredith Viera in the front row. When they moved in for a close-up on her head, those were our hands clapping.

But then, at the first commercial, they came to us and asked us to shift around again. The producer looked at me and said, "It looks like you're growing out of her head."

On my 51st birthday I was told that I look like I'm growing out of Meredith Viera's head.

They got to the end of the segment and the Comedian Who Didn't Like Me began announcing the names of the people who passed the contestant test. And the last name mentioned was... MINE! He sneered. Oh, I remember why he didn't like me. He was tossing around free t-shirts and when I got mine I said, "It's the wrong size."

He called me annoying and said to give it away to a friend. (Hey buddy, I thought, my feet are killing me from all the standing and all I got was a lousy t-shirt in the wrong size?)

Then they went to commecial. The Comedian Who Hate Me said, "There's one more name. I'll tell it to you at the end of the show."

End of the show comes. And the name? Jim Brochu! We were in! As the rest of the disappointed audience left, about 6 or 8 of us test passers gathered on the little bleachers and we were then beset by a group of young producers who took Polaroids of our faces and then interviewed us one by one.

(At which point Jimmy leaned over and said, "Do you realize when you use your 'ask the audience' lifeline on the show you're asking a bunch of losers??")

On the form we had to fill out, there was this question: Name something Meredith Viera would find interesting about you.

Meredith, how much time have you got?

So, what do you think I wrote? Those of you who have been following this bonus round story -- 8 years of diary. Death. Life. Musicals. New York. I stared at the blank piece of paper, completely and utterly clueless about what to write.

I don't know what made me do it. Madness, I guess. I wrote, "Jackie Mason once stole a french fry off my plate."

I also mentioned to the interviewer that I had one of the longest running Internet diaries but he looked puzzled and asked me to explain. I could tell I wasn't impressing him. I think I was too "show business."

Jim stands at the contestant podium.
That night Jim had pulled together a little surprise birthday party for me at Danny Lanning's. Danny is a brilliant composer, musician and singer. And I thought what a great birthday. Reunited with our New York family. Everyone singing and laughing.

Dan Lanning.

Veteran stage actor Dick Bell.

Marc Janas, pianist/composer/musical director.

John Fischer, pianist/musical director.

Reed Prescott, up and coming singer/actor.

Steve Schalchlin, birthday boy.

But that's not all. After we finished up a fabulous meal, we scooted out of there and uptown to Birdland where we were invited once again to sing at Jim Caruso's Cast Party. Only this was a night! In the audience was Michael Feinstein (the brilliant cabaret artist) and Adam Guettel (one of the most promising of the new theatrical composers). Suddenly, Jim Caruso announces that they're going to sing Happy Birthday.

To me! Then they called us up to the stage.

Jim Caruso. (Mark Hartman at the piano).
Since Jim and Michael Feinstein are old friends, he felt a little nervous about singing. Myself, I felt like the junior high kid who suddenly has to play a recital for Julliard. But I wasn't scared. I just knew that this was a very unique opportunity to sing for people I've been admiring from a distance for a very long time.

We sang our "How Do You Fall" and, once again, brought down the house. And then Jim brought Reed up to sing "Reluctant Soldier." Reed also got a great reception. A lady came racing up to me afterwards and said that she loved that song -- that she had heard Julie Reyburn sing it just last week.

After that, it was late into the night but we were not ready to quit. Instead, we went to a place that this our second home in New York. Someday someone will write a play or a musical set there. But for now, it's just a place where we know we are safe and warm: Club 39.

It is Saturday morning, October 16. I have received a message from "Who Want To Be A Millionaire" alerting me that I did NOT make the contestant pool. Jim got the same message.

So why do I feel like I won?

The next day, October 5th, we flew home and immediately got a phone call from someone very interested in ... Well, it's too early to talk about it. But let's just say it capped off our New York festival experience and my million dollar birthday celebration perfectly.

Feel the buzz, baby. Feel the buzz.

[ Book 4-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]  -- [ Book 4-3 ]

© 1996-2004 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.