The Better Than Expected Tour
Volume 4 Book 5 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(Part 8)

Jim, Steve & Robert Mandan, The Big Voice.

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

November 14-24, 2005.
The Unexpected Awards Tour.
This past week, there has been so much happening to us, that I can barely keep up. What would that be, you ask?


It all began this past Monday, continued through Sunday and then Monday. I should probably take them in reverse order, because the one that you would consider the most important happened on Monday. But instead of making a diary entry here, I took video and make a vlog of the night.

First of all, we got word from Palm Springs that, of the Desert Star Awards we won Best Overall Production of a Concert Performance. (I guess they didn't realize that we don't use a set even when we're in a theatre, but, okay it was a Concert version). We also won Best Writing and Jim won Best Singer (something he's never going to let me forget).

Here in San Fernando Valley we attended the Valley Theatre League Awards where we were nominated in five categories: Best Lighting Design, Ken McCord; Best Stage Manager, Cate Conner; Best Musical Direction, me; Best Lead Actor in a Musical, Jim; and Best Revival of a Musical.

Now, you might think it's strange that we were nominated for Best Revival, but the fact is that we began Big Voice three years ago here in a workshop that expanded into a production that got reviewed and nominated for awards. So, it's not exactly a revival from the 30's but we're a revival nonetheless. And we won in three categories!

Best Musical Direction (for which I apologized, saying, "All I did was play the piano and let Jim sing.") Best Lead Actor in a Musical, which Jim totally deserved and we won Best Revival of a Musical. It was very exciting. Fred Willard was the host and he was very funny.

Fred Willard hosting.

Jim with funny man, Chuck McCann, talking about Davy Burns.
Jack Riley of the Bob Newhart Show.

Me getting the award for Best Musical Director.

Jim wins for Best Lead Actor in A Musical.

Rehearsing "How Do You Fall Back In Love".

The big night, though was the Ovation Awards. Hosted by Ann Magnuson, Jim and I were both up for Best Lead Actor in a Musical (which we did not win).

Jim & Steve with Mary Jo Catlett ("Diff'rent Strokes")

...and with Sally Kellerman (Hot Lips Houlihan on MASH).

The came the big moment: Best Musical, Intimate Theatre. I had my video camera in my hand. I was taping the ceremony for myself. I wanted us to win so badly, but we had been up for Ovations before and had lost. I was all prepared to lose. And to increase the tensions, Broadway composer and legend Jerry Herman was handing out the award!

"...and the Ovation goes to...


WHAT???? DID HE SAY THE BIG VOICE???? I just started screaming, "OH! OH!"

And I had the stupid camera in my hand. What should I do with it? Well, what else could I do? I took it with me. I suppose I could have handed it off to someone else, but in the moment I was so taken aback, so surprised, I was out of my seat and down the aisle following Jim before I could think.


I made it to the huge stage, turned the camera to the audience and said, "Hello! Hello!"

Jim took the statuette from Jerry and faced the crowd but even he was caught off-guard. His little speech that he usually has for Big Voice was coming out stumbly and wrong. Instead, he looked at everyone and said, "I used to sell orange drink in the lobby of 'Hello Dolly,' for which Jerry Herman wrote the score.

There's no way to describe in words how utterly taken aback we were by the Ovation win. But if you go to the video blog site ( and scroll down, you'll see the video I shot of us screaming and yelling. I even took the camera onstage, much to the laughter coming from the crowd. He finally was able to acknowledge everyone. Then he turned to me, after saying my name and I pointed the camera at the crowd. They all laughed at me. Anthony Barnao, our director, said his thank yous.

And when it was my turn, I don't know why I did this, but I turned the camera off. I suppose I thought I had captured the moment and now it was time for me to just enjoy it in real life or something. I don't know. I stepped up to the podium, thrust my hand in the air and just said, "THANK YOU!"

I know I must have had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face.

Backstage we were flabbergasted.

Jim and I have much to be thankful for as we head into this holiday season. We never expected to be honored so lavishly. We are humbled and thrilled to be given such recognition for our work.

We are also going to be taking two weeks off to go on a retreat. I'm going to disconnect from the Web and leave you to fend for yourself. So, hopefully you'll have enjoyed the video, enjoyed your families, and will have had a wonderful Thanksgiving by the time we get back.

And may the Best Than Expected Tour continue in YOUR life!

December 13-17, 2005.
Weird World.

I've spent the last few days working on a video project for Alexandra Billings, goddess that she is. My method is to work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat, work, sleep eat. I haven't left the house except to go to the doctor and tell him not to take my blood tests for cholesterol because it's been too cold to run. Actually, I've been too lazy to run. But the cold gives me an excellent excuse.

We met yesterday with Linda from the Avery Schreiber Theatre and are planning on doing three performances of Big Voice at the end of January. Partly because she asked us to and partly because we want more investors to see the show.

We met with Murphy and Paul about the New York run and, if all goes well, we are looking at an April/May opening off-Broadway, but don't mark your calendars because it's all tentative. They are preparing Jay Johnson's EXCELLENT show, My Two & Only for a brief run in Brentwood here leading to a Broadway opening soon. It's such a great show. Jay and his puppets are magic. Literally. They will have you crying and laughing and all the stuff you want to do in a theatre.

I took a lot of video on the cruise we just took, but I haven't put it together yet. So, I'm planning on doing that during our Christmas break which will start on Wednesday. (I was going to say "holiday break" but the Christmas Police might come and drag me off to Christmas Jail.) In case you don't know, here in the US, there is a phony fundraising campaign being waged by the conservative political right in the name of "saving Christmas." Apparently, if you wish someone "Happy Holidays," it means you hate Jesus. I think they plan to save mom and apple pie next.

Speaking of religious zealots, on a recent plane trip, we were accosted at our seat by an Orthodox Jewish guy complete in black suit and hat. We had ordered the ham and cheese sandwich. Just as we were about to dive in, he appeared at our seat asking us, rather sternly, if we were Jewish. I think he was the Kosher Police and planned to grab our sandwiches out of our hands if we had said yes. I wish I had said yes, but it was such a bizarre experience to have this guy dressed all in black questioning me about my religion.

Why do all the religious zealots these days think they have to lord over everyone else? Whether it's the Taliban hitting women with sticks or the Vatican doing a witch hunt for "homosexual priests" or Fox News and Jerry Falwell demanding that everyone stop saying "holiday" or guys dressed in black trying to take away our sandwiches. What a weird world we live in.

December 18, 2005.
Little Old Lady At The Mall.
Yesterday we decided to go see King Kong at this big mall in Sherman Oaks where they have the biggest, widest and brightest screen in the Valley. We got there just as the previews were starting and the place was packed, but we managed to get two seats in the front row of the middle aisle (about 1/4 of the way up where there's a walkway and we can stretch our legs out) because two lame guys, wanting to not have to sit next to each other or anyone else, had their coats on the seats next to them pretending they were occupied.

It was great. They grumbled and moved their coats and just sat right between them and on the other side of them, which caused them to grumble some more and move together so we could sit together. Hey guys! Thanks for saving us our favorite seats!

The movie was spectacular. Afterwards, Jimmy went into an ice cream shop to get some dessert for later on while I went to the magazine stand down the little walkway a bit. He came running up to me after he got his treat.

"I just had the nicest experience," he said. "I was standing in line for ice cream when this little old lady turned to me and said, 'You're the one in that musical! I loved it so much. It was the best thing I've seen all year.'"

Jim said thank you.

She continued, "People who are as talented as you deserve to have people like me buying tickets to see you."

He was beaming. Funny. We can win all the awards LA has to offer, but have one anonymous person come up to you and tell you how much they loved your work and it totally makes your day.


After I got home, we both received strange emails from some guy complaining about a picture of the late Stan Freeman that I had posted way back earlier in the diary. I guess it was one from when Stan wasn't feeling so well. He was adamant that I needed to take it down because Stan was coming to him at night begging him to write a note to take it down.

Now, I don't know this guy from Adam, but he also wrote Jim the same request, only he wrote it as if Stan was writing it in the first person. I also knew this writer knew nothing about the Net since he said we had it "plastered all over the Internet." What the hell does that mean? It's on one page next to a photo of Carol Burnett. But why fight? I took it down and told him Stan can now rest in peace.

Of course, since Stan had no use for religion, I can guarantee you this was not about Stan. After I wrote this guy back, he wrote me back using Stan's voice thanking me.

I found the whole thing creepy. Stan was one of our best friends. I loved him like I loved few other people and even if it wasn't one of the best photos of him in the world, any photo of Stan, to me, is beautiful. I still miss him every single day. The world lost a great artist when he died.

Here's to you, Stan.

December 19, 2005.
Brokeback Love.
Jimmy and I went to see Brokeback Mountain. I think it's a decent enough movie. I cried a tear. And it has some truly spectacular performances. I have some thoughts.

If you haven't seen it or don't plan to see it, here's a brief encapsulation. Some spoilers, such as plot, is revealed. But I don't give the ending away or anything like that. You warned.

In this movie, two good ol' boys get drunk one night while tending a herd of sheep over the summer, do each other in the pup tent, keep doing each other in the pup tent, and from that moment on, they're in love but cain't talk about it.

"Ennis Del Mar," Heath Ledger, already has a bride waitin' for him cuz that's the way things are done. He is a stoic ranch hand who barely makes a living driving cattle and tending to someone else's herd. He soon has two kids and a very sweet wife but he's as cold and emotionally distant as anyone can be. He barely speaks, but he does love his kids and and they adore him.

He drinks a lot. He smokes a lot. He never smiles. He does his duty.

Then, in the mail comes a card from the other drunk guy, Jack Twist played smolderingly by Jake Gyllenhall, that summer on the mountain, the one he fell in love with, that he's driving through town and would love to see him.

One of my favorite scenes involves Ennis waiting for Jack to show up. He drinks beer after beer, smoking cigarette after cigarette waiting at the window. When Jack does show up, it's the first time we see Ennis smile. It's the first time we see him move! When they kiss, it's like they both come alive again.

The movie details how Ennis chooses to stay with his family but have "fishing trips" with his buddy several times a year. Unfortunately, his wife saw them kissing and suspects what's going on. Since this is the middle 1960s, she doesn't really know what to make of it, but she knows. She just can't really do anything about it. Trapped in a loveless marriage, watching her husband going off on trips, the only time she sees him happy.

I thought to myself, if the two guys had had the freedom to be a couple, none of these unhappy marriage scenes would have happened. How said that she basically married a guy who didn't really love her even though he tried.

I found this review online at a conservative Christian website. Stephen Isaac. In it he basically says that Ennis did the right thing in getting married and not pursuing a life with Jack. Why? He notes:

"When two people love each other, they love each other. And people should hold on to it as hard as they can, whether it's homosexual or heterosexual," star Jake Gyllenhaal told reporters at the Toronto Film Festival. He's partly right. But if he's talking about the kind of love shared onscreen by Jack and Ennis, he's conflating the meanings of the words love and lust. ..."
In other words, gay people cannot be in love with each other. It's not actually love. It's only lust. You know, back years ago, when I told this to people who didn't grow up around conservative Christians, they were appalled. They told me I was crazy. But that is what this writer is saying here. (And this is exactly what the song "Going It Alone," addresses in the scene in The Last Session where Buddy discovers that Gideon really does love Jack. Buddy didn't know gay people could actually love each other.

he continues:

"What it condemns is turning brotherly or sisterly love into sexual love—a form of love God reserves for a man and woman who have embraced the gentle bonds of marriage. That sexualization of love—and our growing cultural acceptance of it—is gradually making valid, chaste love between two men or two women harder and harder to accomplish."
In other words, everyone has the potential to turn gay, and, if provided the opportunity, everyone will. It's just taking love too far. Ironically, what they're implying is that if people love each other too much, it might turn sexual, and then all hell will break loose. An intriguing theory but...

I guarantee you I know a lot of straight boys who have had plenty of opporturnities to turn gay. I even know some who wished they were gay, but they couldn't do it. No matter how much they wanted it, maybe even tried, they just couldn't turn gay.

But he is right about one thing. Jimmy's and my relationship is based purely on lust. I can't get enough of him. What is all this love crap anyway?

Come on, you big hunka love. Daddy's likin' what he's seein'.

December 21, 2005.
Happy New Year.
Jim and I are taking the next two weeks off for our annual Christmas/New Year break. The diary will return on January 4. Our housesitter has already moved in. The cats love him. I wish all the Bonus Round readers a happy and healthy new year.

I will be back with news about The Big Voice in New York. All is proceeding beautifully.

December 22, 1995 - Jan. 6, 2006.
Back from Mexico.
We just spent the last two weeks cruising down the coast of Mexico, which is what we've done for several years now. I have some diary entries written but I have to get the photos together. Then I'll tell you all about it. Right now, I'm so tired, I can barely hold my head up. But give me a day or two to recover. Why are "vacations" so tiring?
January 7-9, 2006.
Big Voice in LA in January.
I am so far behind in uploading my cruise diary, that I have fallen into paralysis. That's what i get for taking too many pictures and videos. Also, right now my desktop computer is lying in a thousand pieces up on my desk. Ernie came over on Saturday to help me rebuild it, but we were only able to finish so much before we couldn't see anymore. Good heavens, the words on motherboards are TINY.

Meanwhile, the big news is that we are doing Big Voice again for three performances at the end of the month at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. THREE SHOWS ONLY PRIOR TO NEW YORK:
Friday, January 27 @ 8pm
Saturday, January 28 @ 8pm
Sunday, January 29 @ 3pm

Reservations: 818-766-9100

All Tickets $20.00

Avery Schreiber Theatre
11050 Magnolia Blvd in NoHo (between Vineland and Lankershim)

This theatre only has 40 seats so I encourage people to make your reservations immediately. We absolutely cannot extend. Three shows only.

I've also been working on Alexandra's video promo for her show, which we will finalize this week for upload. Then you'll be able to see it. She's really good. The other night she came over to hang out and I showed her the new songs I worked out for her. She said she loved them and we're planning to meet on Monday for a good long session.

Hopefully, once I get the desktop up and running -- and I thank Ken McPherson for sending me his hand-me-down equipment (which is better than most new systems) -- I will be much more functional.

I appreciate all of you for hanging in there with me as I get my equipment up to date.

January 10-11, 2006.
Alexandra's Promo Video.
Today, I worked on finishing up some video work for Alexandra. You can go look at it at

Meanwhile, my email has been offline due to a server crash. If you need to get ahold of me, write me at my alternate email address,

Alexandra and I had a fantastic writing session earlier this week and we're meeting again on Thursday. Have I mentioned how amazingly talented this crazed woman is?

January 12-15, 2006.
Animations & Personal Appearances.
We met with Linda over at the Avery Schreiber to get ready for our big weekend of shows coming at the end of the month (27, 28, 29). She said the phone is ringing and tickets are being sold. Since we're doing this with no publicity agent or advertising, we're depending upon word of mouth, internet and email blasts.

Unfortunately, you won't see us on CNN as they discuss Brokeback Mountain. The "mainsream press" doesn't quite yet know who we are. But I think Jimmy, for one, is VERY articulate in front of a camera and I'm not so bad myself, though I tend to feel awkward. (I'm told I don't look awkward, so clearly I fake it nicely).

We're making two public appearances prior to the 27.

THIS COMING SUNDAY MORNING, Jan. 22 AT 11 AM at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood, we are singing "Why?" for the Sunday morning "Science of Mind" church service. They meet on the mainstage of the theatre complex (where the stage look changes with every show's new set) and the minister of the church, James Mellon, also serves as the artistic director of the theatre production company.

Next show, "Barnum!" Haven't you always wanted to have church in a circus?

[I'm not an expert on Science of Mind, but after attending a few services both in the past and more recently, I understand them to teach a rational, more scientific approach to "religion" where the emphasis is on affirmations rather than rituals. In Science of Mind, it's not assumed that man knows everything about God, but that we use our creative minds to fuel our own evolution. And as our minds grow, our knowledge of God grows.]
Last Sunday, as we visited, Rev. James', in his remarks (I don't think he would call what does a "sermon"), he discussed asking yourself "Who is God?" It felt like he was singing our Big Voice song "Why?".

The mix of theatre and church is really fun. The congregation consists of really smart, cultured people. Lots of people from the arts. They also sang a song from "Sweeney Todd."

I think this is a congregation that will enjoy The Big Voice.

Then, on January 24th, I'm singing for a dinner at Valley Beth Shalom. It was just a coincidence that our schedules matched up this way. I like that we play to so many different people of faith even though our show is not really a religious play. Not really. It's a love story.

We're BroShack Mountain, except in our play, the gay guys, after they fall in love, stay together, endure every human mishap together and write musicals together. They didn't die at the end.

And we're also butch as hell. I'm totally Ennis. Cold. Remote. Sexy as as hell. That's me.

(I once wore a cowboy hat. It lasted one gig: Lake Charles, Louisiana. And someone stole it, or, more likely, I left it in a hotel room. I loved that hat. But I have a big head and hats don't usually fit me all that well. So, I decided cowboy hats weren't for me. Too expensive to keep up. Too hard to maintain. When I was at Jacksonville Baptist College boys dorm, we had a room of cowboys from west Texas. They had a very specific way of steaming and blocking their hats. They would very carefully clean them, steam them and block them to perfection. I always liked hanging out with them while they were doing that. They chew tobacco, too. And we played dominoes. I can still hear the slap of dominoes, the cold ivory clapping down on against the metal table, as they wielded their tiles like pistols. Slap. Clap.)

I wonder if there are any students who go there now, majoring in music, who have been following my career but are afraid to write me. My old professor. Brother Orr. Doctor Orr. I wonder what he thinks, or if he thinks about me at all. Small town Baptist boy goes to Los Angeles and gets an award from Jerry Herman for writing the Best Musical of the Year.

Funny, but growing up, I didn't really have that fantasy. I didn't know who Jerry Herman was and I never went to a musical (that I recall) until I was out of college well into my 20s. I don't think New York people realize how invisible they were and are to small-town Texas Baptists.

I have this feeling they don't even know. I've written them a few times but haven't gotten anything back.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Jim and me. What happens when you let the gay guys stay together rather than forcing them to turn straight, making everyone else's and their own lives miserable? Answer: BroShack Mountain. AKA The Big Voice: God or Merman?

Boring website geeky stuff:
The website has almost been fully restored. Thanks to the Jasons. Sorry we were offline, so now I'm playing catch-up. I know the site is out of control and it needs a make-over, but I am doing it all myself. Right now I have to concentrate on Big Voice as much as possible. And that started with getting our websites up to date.

I took the last few days working on the websites' animations, which were badly outdated. It was long, tedious and arduous since I had to go through a long process which I am not going to bore you with. But now, thankfully, it's done and my FTP is working again. They're not perfect, but they're better than what I had, and will work for now. You can find them on the front page of and

Since Alex was not feeling well -- she hurt her back -- it was just as well. While she convalesced, I worked on geek stuff. I needed to step back from the music anyway. Distance gives you perspective. Sometimes you can work on something for hours, think it's the best thing in the world and it actually stinks.

I hate when that happens.

[ Book 4-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] - [ Book 4-6 ]
© 1996-2005 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.