Thursday, September 27, 2007

Love as Salvation

Tucson Weekly : Arts : Love as Salvation


Love as Salvation

Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin share their hilarious and touching story at Invisible Theatre

Jim Brochu and James Schalchlin in "The Big Voice: God or Merman?"
Now, here's a real odd couple. Jim is an extroverted Brooklyn Catholic who, as a boy, dreamed of becoming pope, mainly because he liked the clothes. Steve is an introverted Arkansas Baptist who, as a boy, toyed with the idea of evangelism until he learned that queers aren't welcome at the seminary, even if they never stray far from the closet.

Jim grew up going to Broadway shows starring the likes of Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. Steve once saw a dinner-theater production featuring Bob Crane.

Jim and Steve meet on a cruise--in the Bermuda Triangle, aboard the sister ship of the Andrea Doria. Surely, the relationship has about as much of a chance of success as Ethel Merman did when she tried to sing quietly.

It was Merman, actually, who turned Jim's interest from the papacy to show business; upon Jim's first childhood visit to Broadway, to see Merman in Gypsy, he realized that the theater "was like church, but with energy." Yet Jim, like Steve, never quite gave up on the idea of salvation. All they had to do was figure out how to achieve it without the dubious help of organized religion.

Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin recount their story themselves in The Big Voice: God or Merman?, a mixture of songs, zingers, tall tales and emotional candor now playing at the Invisible Theatre. It's a love story both hilarious and touching, though not without crises, and it keeps an audience engaged even though it's obvious that everything will turn out all right.

Including Steve's struggle, since 1994, with AIDS. I mean, the guy is standing right there, thin but full of quiet vitality, so there's not much suspense about his fate. Did he succumb during a hospital crisis a decade ago? Um, obviously not. Did the unpleasant new personality he got as a side effect of his medication destroy his relationship with Jim? Well, Jim's standing right there, too, so they're probably OK together now.

So the show isn't so much about what happens in the end as what happens along the way. Even so, that question in the title--God or Merman?--always dangles over the proceedings, almost forgotten in the second half, but demanding an answer by the final curtain. And an answer, it gets, a satisfying one that isn't at all contrived.

The Big Voice is subtitled "a musical comedy in two lives," and it could only be pulled off through the collaboration of two utterly dissimilar people. Brochu, who wrote the script, does most but by no means all of the talking, regaling the audience with ridiculous, endearing stories about how as a child, he wanted more than anything a record of Pope Pius XII singing Gregorian chant, or how he broke into television being cast in commercials as a dancing raisin and a lemon from outer space. "Within a month," he declares, "I was known as one of the most dependable fruits in show business."

Schalchlin wrote the music and most of the lyrics, and he seems more comfortable sitting behind his electric piano, telling his own story in song. He employs the generic ballad style common in small musicals these days, pleasant enough but not as individual. Schalchlin's most memorable songs are a well-constructed piece about a childhood encounter with a flashy evangelist, and a duet with Brochu in which they puzzle out how to put their shattered relationship back together again.

Schalchlin has the better voice of the two; Brochu's is more, well, Mermanesque, but, unlike Ethel, he doesn't settle for a dull stand-and-deliver routine. He acts every phrase, and all in all, his style is that of a barely restrained Zero Mostel. (As a matter of fact, Brochu is about to open his one-man show about Mostel, Zero Hour, on Broadway, and Invisible Theatre is presenting a single, sneak-preview benefit performance of the show at 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7; tickets for that will cost $35.)

Ultimately, Jim and Steve don't really have to choose between God and Merman. In many ways, religion and show business are the same thing, and not just in the crass ways that quickly come to mind. Whether or not Jim and Steve love Jesus, as the Baptists back in Steve's hometown would insist is necessary, they love each other. And that's the best foundation there is for salvation on this earthly plane.

The Big Voice: God or Merman?presented by Invisible Theatre7:30 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m., Sundays; through Oct. 61400 N. First Ave.$25-$27882-9721;

'The Big Voice' speaks volumes to audiences - WildLife

'The Big Voice' speaks volumes to audiences - WildLife

'The Big Voice' speaks volumes to audiences
play review
By: Elizabeth M. Holder
Posted: 9/27/07
It's amazing how you can find someone, that significant other, in the most unlikely of circumstances. Who could have known that a Roman Catholic boy from Brooklyn and a Baptist boy from Arkansas would one day meet on a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean?

Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin never anticipated their chance meeting, their eventual life partnership and the creation of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" But now they definitely have an inspirational life together and an astounding show that everyone should see in Tucson while they still can.

Where some two-person shows may feature one actor and use the other to play a supporting role, this musical equally showcases two talented actors and their unique life experiences.
"The Big Voice"
Invisible Theatre
5 stars!!!
Through Oct. 7
1400 N. First Ave.

Brochu and Schalchlin effortlessly wear the hats of many other minor characters in the lives of the two men, from childhood through adulthood. They began their lives wanting to help others by being spiritual leaders, a priest and a preacher. But they discovered their true calling was to serve others through the arts.

Where mainstream religion chastises people who are different, they are able to speak to those same people and build newfound hope. Growing up, they thought they would save souls from behind the pulpit. Now, they know they are saving lives in the theater through the shows they produce.

Eventually, the audience learns that their lives are forever changed when Schalchlin is diagnosed with a serious illness. Their experience proves that no matter how much despair and turmoil you may receive from adverse circumstances, there is always a way to gain empowerment through it.

Longingly waiting for the "Big Voice" to speak to them, only the passing of time for these gentlemen shows if that greatly anticipated heavenly revelation or divine moment comes from God, Ethel Merman or both. The duo's powerful acting, singing and stage presence fill the small Invisible Theatre effortlessly. It is hard to believe even two exceptionally talented men could have written this humorous, evocative and moving show on top of their already stunning merits.

A comedic musical, Brochu and Schalchlin demonstrate great skill while executing their physical and verbal humor that keeps the audience in stitches. The audience could be heard continuously laughing out loud, and, on more than one occasion, enthusiastic applause filled the house.

"The Big Voice" can be seen at the Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave., through Oct. 7. Showtimes are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is $25-$27, and tickets are available for half-price a half-hour prior to curtain. Call 882-9721 for reservations and more information.
© Copyright 2007 Arizona Daily Wildcat

"Big Voice" boy meets boy love story

Tucson Citizen review 09.27.2007
by Chuck Graham
Tucson Citizen

Friday, September 21, 2007