BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince you that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.
I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- which is my way of describing how I feel having cheated death. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.
Last year, I turned 60 and I had a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City and playing the lead role in a staged reading of a play not written by myself. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve [SHACK-lin] and we're just getting started.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Lise, who does PR for the theatre, asked me if I would appear at the reception and say a few words about Zero Hour because Kenn McLaughlin was home sick. Of course, this means more than just talking about the play. This means being at the reception, shaking hands with people, entering into conversations with them, being personable -- all things I let Jim do for us as he's much more chatty, story-telly and charming than I am at parties. (I tend to find the food, sit in the corner and wait for it to be over).
So, before the show started I snuck into the kitchen and sampled all the food -- it was quite good! They were all unique little squiggly things on round things (salmon mouse, avocado mouse, etc.) delivered from a local restaurant. The rep from the restaurant was a cute, funny guy and we got along great.
Then, I went into the rehearsal hall for my first songwriting session since I've been here. I didn't know there was a piano in there until Jim told me there was a few days ago. YAY! I have a whole stack of lyrics I've been dying to get my teeth into. Ah, there's nothing like a brand new lyric on a clean sheet of paper to make my heart go twitter.
After working about a half hour and almost finishing the first song, while "sampling" a few of the others just to see if anything came to me -- writing songs like like having dessert; if you eat too much at one time, you'll spoil dinner; also, once I start on a musical idea, I have to take it to its musical completion. Otherwise, when I start on the next song, it will sound just like the one I've been working on. One idea at a time, please! -- I made my way to the party.
And I was very good! The people surrounded me once I introduced myself. There was a nice looking gay couple who enthusiastically said they'd seen The Big Voice. And I felt like the life of the party. I kept thinking, "If Jim were here, he'd be doing this and I'd be curled up in a corner in another room reading a book."
So, they clinked glasses just before the show was to start and introduced me formally and I began talking about the origins of "Zero Hour," about how much we love Stages Theatre, how helpful Kenn was with creative input and how much I thanked haynesboone for sponsoring the show, and that I felt they'd be very proud of the piece.
Happily, they all seemed to know a bit about Zero. One fellow asked if Zero ever got over his anger of the blacklist. I looked at him and said, "No. But it's a much more complicated story than that, and that the play would reveal all." I told them how Zero's friends came to see the show in LA and gave their undying blessings to it and how all of them had approached it skeptically, wondering who could ever "reproduce" Zero Mostel. I mentioned that one of Zero's best friends is working with Jim now to bring the show, hopefully, to New York (though I can't much more until everything is in place).
After the show, they were totally blown away. By the play. By Jim's performance. By everything. And I felt proud that I could stand and represent the show for Jim. And it was nice to actually feel witty and personable in public. Next time, Jim can go sit in the corner and eat, and *I'll* do all the talking for us!
Friday, April 27, 2007
As readers know, Jim and I travel a lot because he lectures on cruise ships and I go along for the ride. He recently put together a page with photos from many of the places we've gone. Thought you might get a kick out of it.
Jim and Steve's Travel Page.
Mike was a hustler at the time and Haggard, who was fighting against a gay marriage bill in Colorado, was one of this clients who called himself "Art." When Mike saw him on TV ranting and raving against gay people, he knew he, indeed, had to say something.
Get this book. Support Mike. He's a beautiful man.
It's more work. :-)
I will always consider myself a husband first. Jimmy is my first priority in everything. I knew he couldn't handle four weeks alone without me, so I decided to come along and be a husband. Or maybe I just didn't want four weeks alone at home without him. We are a married couple. Despite the rantings and ravings of the idiotic right wing religious fanatics who dominate the American political and religious environment, there is no difference between our marriage and the marriage of any straight couple except, of course, that we love each other more than they do, and we don't divorce each other at the drop of a hat. (How many marriages do the "Christian" Republican Presidential candidates have between them? So many I lost count.)
Actually, since we write together, we have ample opportunity to work on the new pieces we've been writing. And there's a piano down at the theatre. So, I can work on music while he's on stage.
Also, in Zero Hour, I do have 10 lines of dialogue. He needs me to save the show each night.
2. What lessons did you learn by doing TBV in New York that you'll take with you to SF?
I learned that in 100 performances, each one is different, and that if you keep looking, you can discover newer and better ways to perform each scene. We've been doing this show for four years now and it still feels like the first time. There was a woman who wrote me a note after seeing us in New York and she was astonished that we seemed so fresh in the roles. So, I think the main lesson is that if I continue looking for a better way of handling each scene, it will always be fresh and new.
3. What are your plans for June while you're here? Who are you going to work with?
I'll be coming to New York in June for 10 days to work with singers, arrangers and co-writers, all of whom have taken a very strong interest in my music. For too long now, I've kinda worked alone in my studio, making my own demos. But a couple of years ago, I realized that I had no chance of really making a mark as a writer unless I had other singers doing my material. So, that's why I made the recordings with the British singer, Petrina Johnson. But she's in England and too far away. I also made some demos with Alexandra Billings in Los Angeles. Thrilled with our results, I knew I could work more toward tailoring music for someone other than myself.
When we were in NY, you remember that I went to Mark Janas' salon every Sunday night and began (jokingly, but not jokingly) telling everyone, "SING MY SONGS!" And I waited to see who would respond. Mark had already become a strong supporter, but he's not a singer. However, he is a brilliant musician and, as I began writing material that was a little different from my usual thing, he excitedly offered to help me arrange. I loved his ideas and I feel like we're two sides of the same coin, musically. Well, actually, we're two sides of two different coins. He's classical. I'm church. He theatre. I'm bar band. We seem to meet in the middle in a very interesting and wonderful way. I'm in awe of him and, for some ungodly reason, he's in awe of what I do. So, I can't say enough about how much I'm looking forward to working with him again.
The second person to really get excited about my work is Devin Richards, the wonderful Broadway actor/singer currently in "110 In The Shade." We've been working long distance, communicating almost every day. I would send him a track and he would add a vocal. Then I'd rework the track. Like Mark, he comes from a different tradition than I do. But he brings soul and jazz to my sound. Plus, the fact that he's from the south, he "gets" my gospel, blues and country roots. The other thing about Devin is that he's a baritone/bass, completely different from me. But for some reason, we blend and we are excited about working together.
Another singer I'm looking forward to working with is a young singer from Manhattan School of Music named Maeve Hoaglund. If she's not in Italy studying opera, we're going to work in the recording studio together. She has this amazingly rich voice.
Also, I'll be working with Rhe De Ville. We made a video together in NY, but we need to finish the music track for it. She has a husky, low voice that just kills me. And, my god, is she beautiful. Her husband is a professional photographer, so who knows what kind of mischief we might get into. I love them both.
And other singers from the salon: Stephen Wild is one. He's a great singer. I can't name them all. It's a lot for 10 days, I know, but I'm looking forward to a very productive time.
4. Who is your favorite 27 year old lyricist?
AMY LYNN SHAPIRO!
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Ironically, few of these talking heads, who cannot WAIT to get on Fox or CNN to act like they "know it all," were available to be interviewed by Moyers. They only want to be on TV when they can be seen as experts. Not when an actual journalist is asking questions.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Three-time Tony winner, Mostel is one of Broadway's monstres sacrés: an original, something titanic, a force of nature. As a performer, he was his own shock and awe, and his story is one of steely determination, fierce pride and unquenchable anger at what happened to him and his many friends during the '50s Communist witch-hunts. When his performing career was curtailed, he survived through his first great love -- painting -- his lifeline to creativity. Mostel was one of the lucky ones; he outlived his adversaries and returned in triumph to Broadway (Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Sondheim's Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Harnick and Bock's Fiddler on the Roof) and then Hollywood (Mel Brooks's The Producers).
An incredibly versatile actor, he made you weep with his brilliant insight into James Joyce (Ulysses in Nighttown), or roar with laughter from his antics with The Muppets. All the highlights and lowlights of Mostel's complicated, seismograph-like life are covered by Brochu, who bellows, cajoles, pleads and charms much like Zero.
There's a snippet from Mostel's comic days at Café Society; an improv from his first drama class; his "Hello, loose lips" speech in front of the full Forum cast, coldly welcoming HUAC rat Jerome Robbins as the show's new director; and endearing personal family confessions. Comedy, pathos, Borscht belt schtick, bombast and sentiment, and Mostel's instantaneous shift from one to another, it's all here and rendered with loving photorealism. The physical resemblance is downright eerie: a slicked-down comb-front that Mostel should have trademarked, those haunting saucer eyes, that surprising agility like one of the hippos from Fantasia and that melodious thunder of a voice.
(Here is Zero on the Muppets, referred to above:)
Tomas Vrzala. See all the photos of the event here.
Rosie brought that rare truth to TV, saying what everyone is actually thinking, about the vile machinations of the Cheney/Bush/Rove axis of evil and the disgusting loudmouthed Donald Trump.
Rosie, you were the breath of fresh air. An out gay person who had a voice and a point of view that is going to be missed.
Either that or a warm front is clashing with a cold front.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Today, they announced a free buffet here in the hotel with chicken fingers and salad. AND a BINGO GAME! So, Jim and I, who've never turned down a meal, made our way down to the "Great Room," loaded our plates up with hot chicken fingers and bought some Bingo cards (for $1 each, the proceeds to go to a children's charity).
Although there were several groups of men (British workers doing something for Siemens) eating large platefuls of food, Jim and I were the only two people playing Bingo.
And we both won at the same time! Our prizes? Two free meals for two at the Sand Trap Restaurant!
Monday, April 23, 2007
The opening night of Zero Hour was great. The audience was on its feet before the lights even came up. The Chronicle review was the same as in the blog posted earlier, but it had a huge layout on the page with a great picture. After the show, one of the Board members, so excited about it, took the picture Jimmy draws during the performance and auctioned it off for $100.
We took Saturday off and went to see the movie "Grindhouse," which we enjoyed in all its blood-splattering glory.
Sunday, my brother Scott and his wonderful wife, Jill, came to visit and see the show. (Video to come). They took me out before the show to a place called the Ragin' Cajun.
Bet ya can't find good boudin in Noo York City!
Here is where you line up to order your food.
I'm not sure what the stacks of books are for.
To put the kids on so they can sit up at the table?
The elegant seatin' area is very unpretentious.
On Sunday, the show went very well again. There was a talkback afterwards in which Jim told lots of stories and the people discussed the show and its issues very intelligently, bringing up aspects neither of us had really thought about. I do love Houston audiences and always have.
On Monday, Jim went to the Pacifica Radio station at 90.1. It sits in a small home in a residential area. Politically liberal, the hosts began the interview by saying, "If anyone wants to call in to talk about the blacklist, our lines are open."
So, that told Jim right from the start that this wasn't a typical "show biz" interview. They were focused on the political issues raised in "Zero Hour," which, as the Houston Chronicle mentioned, takes up a major part of the play. I enjoyed sitting in an outer area listening to the interview as they seriously discussed the blacklist and the House Un-American Activities Committee. As I was sitting there, someone came up to me and said, "Hello! I'm Pokey! We know each other form online! I was sitting there listening and heard Jim and said, 'Hey, I know those guys!'"
So, I hugged her and we talked for a little bit. It was fun to run into one of my netfriends from out of the blue.
1. It can be done.
2. It's a relaxed and joyful place. Not a prison.
3. When you get out into the world, you realize that you have not been trained to deal with the fact that most religious people, including the clergy, ignore what their church actually teaches -- and they create a comfortable place for themselves outside the walls of doctrine and theology and inside the walls of the church structure itself.
At first it's shocking. You go looking for a set of rules that make sense. But then, your humanity takes over and you realize that this is the condition of mankind and religion. And thus it has ever been. This is how we survive the church, the clergy and all the man-made devices standing up, proclaiming themselves to be God's representatives.
It's the religious version of "Network."
Can the world actually face a truth teller? Can it endure such a thing? What happens to truth tellers?
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
The audience, of course, didn't really know what they were in for. Zero Hour is like a freight train. Zero opens the play by hitting the audience hard and fast because he's aggressively determined to take control of the "interview" that's taking place (which is the conceit of the play, that he's being interviewed by a reporter).
I sat in the back row watching, hoping they would "get" what was going on. It seemed, at first, that the laughter, though plentiful, was nervous, as if they weren't quite sure if they are supposed to be laughing. Zero, as a character, gives no quarter.
Then when it gets into the blacklist and the rant that Zero goes on against McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee and being called a communist, by the end of the play, which concludes suddenly, like a shotgun going off, the audience immediately went into roaring applause. The people around us were saying to each other, "This is amazing! I've never seen anything like it!"
The second act is gentler and funnier, and they were with Jim all the way. There is one particular punchline (which I won't give away) which we wondered would "work" in Texas. The laughter seemed to go on for 2 minutes. They loved it. And at the end of the show, it was an immediate standing ovation.
I overheard people in the lobby saying it was the best show all season. So, we are pleased and grateful to know that it plays as well in Texas as it did in Los Angeles. Tonight, second preview.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Kitty was one of the classy ladies who was witty, hilarious, talented and beloved. The Wikipedia entry:
We were lucky to have met her on several occasions and she always acted as if we were old friends. Gracious and lovely, everyone loved Kitty Carlisle. She will be missed.
Carlisle's early movies included Murder at the Vanities (1934), A Night at the Opera (1935) with the Marx Brothers, and two films with Bing Crosby, She Loves Me Not (1934) and Here Is My Heart (1934).
Carlisle became a household name through To Tell the Truth, where she was a regular panelist for some 20 years, appearing on each version from 1956 to 2002. Carlisle also appeared as a frequent panelist on the 1968 revival of What's My Line?.
During this period, ever conscious of her image, Carlisle was alert to fashion and became an early patron of Scaasi: "At Wednesday night's Broadway salute to the New York City Mission Society on its 175th anniversary at Avery Fisher Hall, the fan-bodice Scaasis unfurled again. At least one of them did, a turquoise number on Kitty Carlisle Hart, who said she's been Scaasified ever since the designer dressed her for the London opening of My Fair Lady."
Carlisle married playwright Moss Hart on August 10, 1946, after having met as actors at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  The couple had two children, and Moss died December 21, 1961.
It has a beautiful lobby:
Jim, Lise & Calvin:
Karen the Stage Manager:
Assistant Stage Manager Megan:
Lighting Designer Jeremy:
Jodi the Property Mistress:
Steve the very serious hanger-on:
Jim and Calvin:
Photos from Jim's runthrough:
This shot is very large. I am using it as my screen saver. If you click on it, you can see the full sized image:
After the runthrough, Kenn McLaughlin, the extremely talented producing artistic director gave Jim some thoughtful notes. We worked with Kenn four years ago and completely fell in love with him. He presents terrific theatre and very creative seasons of plays and musicals on two stages.
In trying to beat back a growing wave of support for federal hate crime legislation, the right wing was up to its most dastardly and divisive old tricks. On April 17, they had scheduled a media conference at the National Press Club pairing so-called "ex-gays" with anti-gay black ministers. Their goal was to drive a wedge between the African American and GLBT communities by cynically sending the repulsive and incorrect message that homosexuality is unnatural and changeable, while race is immutable and genetic.
It turns out, however, that their science is as bad as their political acumen. The event had to be cancelled at the last minute, following the murderous rampage at Virginia Tech. Although the motive is still under investigation, a pro-hate conference became a liability with the worst killing spree in American history dominating the news. The ghoulish images that saturated television coverage had people calling for more law enforcement protection, at a time when our opponents were calling for less.
On the other side of Washington, the Human Rights Campaign deftly organized and deployed 220 supportive clergy members from all 50 states, on the day the U.S. House's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security heard testimony on the hate crime bill. (On April 12, the "Matthew Shepard Act" hate crime bill was introduced in the Senate.) ...
The most powerful witness was Ritcheson, 18, who was pulverized by skinheads last April and sodomized with the plastic pole of a patio umbrella while his two assailants yelled anti-Hispanic slurs. He required thirty surgeries before he was on the mend.
"My name is David Ritcheson and I appear before you as a survivor of one of the most despicable and shocking acts of hate violence this country has seen in a decade," Ritcheson told the House panel, according to The Associated Press.
In order to counter such powerful stories, groups like the Family Research Council have resorted to outright lies. For example, they oppose protections against hate crimes based on gender identity and sexual orientation claiming that people should not be prosecuted for their "thoughts."
Tellingly, they have not lobbied very hard to repeal hate crime laws based on religion that have been on the books since 1969. The only thought crime here, is that their transparent anti-gay bias is, quite frankly, thoughtless and criminal.
The hypocrisy deepens when one considers that right wing groups (rightfully) support American intervention when Christians are brutalized overseas...
Read the entire essay.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Here is the front, complete with AIDS ribbon, Steve's piano and Brooklyn Dodgers logo, all in the shape of the Pope's hat.
In the back, there is a picture of Ethel surrounded by lights (looking like a saint in a little altar) along with a TV set and candy stripes.
Dale is one of the most hilarious persons I've ever met. I can't wait for the competition. This bonnet nails our show totally.
"Imagine that this kind of massacre happened every day. Imagine a police force that was far too small to even respond to most of them. Imagine this occurring repeatedly for years until the perpetrators and their accomplices became the de facto power-brokers throughout the land. Imagine the shootings also being accompanied by the brutal torture of victims. Imagine families never having finality on whether their own siblings or parents or children have been murdered or not.
"This is Iraq today. Now think of the justified rage many feel at the VT campus police chief and university president for misjudgments. Now imagine them presiding over several more massacres in the same place. Ask yourself: why do we not feel as enraged by those responsible for security in Iraq? Are those victims not human beings too? Are they not children and mothers and fathers and sons? Are we not ultimately responsible for them, having destroyed the institutions of order in their country? Now go watch John Bolton tell the victims to go help themselves."
Monday, April 16, 2007
This is funny...a young woman, early forties, who stood up at the end of the show and led our little standing O, was asking Carl and I the usual questions about the show on her way out. You know, it this a true story, etc., We pointed out your pictures and started to explain that we had replaced the two of you, basically, the whole story. She said, "Oh, so you're the understudies?" We went on to explain, even more thoroughly, or so we thought, that we replaced you and that you were going on to do other things, Jim, Zero Hour, Steve, composing and that you'd be doing TBV in SF in August.
After all of that (it seemed to go on forever) and mind you, we were still collecting and explaining simultaneously, perhaps the ultimate in multi-tasking, she seemed to finally understand. However, as she was walking down the steps of the shul, she turns to the elderly man she was with and said, and I kid you not, "Gee, what a good show, and to think, we saw the understudies."
Ah, Show Biz....
PS The bonnet is going to be absolutely grand!
The "bonnet" he is referring to is part of the big Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS Easter Bonnet competition. We've been collecting money at the door after every performance. And people have been giving us a lot!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
This article briefly brings good news about a new class of HIV drug.
Long ago, when I was first learning about how HIV works, I learned that the chemists and researchers began their fight by trying to find out which enzymes HIV used (to replicate itself) that the human body did not. They found three: Protease, reverse-transcriptase and integrase.
Reverse transcriptase take a single strand of RNA (which what HIV is when it first enters the t-cell) and changes it into a double stranded DNA helix. It does this so that the new strand of DNA can zip open the DNA of the t-cell (using the integrase enzyme) and insert itself. Then it uses the t-cell to throw out strands of DNA which are then cut into individual new HIV pods (using the protease enzyme).
(There are other classes of drugs also being investigated, but those were the main first targets).
The first HIV drugs targeted reverse transcriptase. The second class of drugs targeted the protease enzyme, but it has been a hassle trying to inhibit integrase. Years and have into research trying to find an effective drug.
Meanwhile, many AIDS patients failed on the first two classes of drugs as HIV morphed and changed shape.
With this news, if the new class of drugs works, many people who are on salvage therapy now or who are failing, will be able to, one hopes, survive.
When I got the link in an email, it didn't work very well. So I went to chron.com and entered through the front page. You might have to do that.
By EVERETT EVANS
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Any playwright attempting a solo biographical play had better make sure he's chosen a fascinating subject.
So why would Jim Brochu write a solo play about a big zero?
Because the "zero" in question is the late, great Zero Mostel.
Brochu stars as the unique, celebrated and bedeviled actor in Zero Hour, making its Houston debut Friday at Stages Repertory Theatre.
Mostel (1915-77) is best remembered for originating the role of disreputable producer Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks' original 1967 film The Producers, and for his three Tony-winning Broadway triumphs of the 1960s: in Ionesco's theater-of-the-absurd landmark Rhinoceros, and in the hit musicals A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof.
That decade's achievements constituted a spectacular comeback. Mostel's career had been derailed throughout the 1950s, when he was blacklisted because of his political affiliations and refusal to "name names" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
A larger-than-life figure in every respect, Mostel was renowned for his explosive presence and abrupt transformations (onstage and off) from jovial to hostile, gentle to volcanic. His tendency to improvise delighted audiences, but often exasperated playwrights, directors and fellow actors.
"Playing him is like trying to put socks on an octopus," Brochu says. "You never know where the next tentacle's going to jut out. But the mischief, the danger, the volatility — all that makes it fun. I find I slip very easily into this role. Somehow it comes naturally to me."
Brochu, who co-created the off-Broadway musicals The Last Session and The Big Voice: God or Merman? (which he performed at Stages in 2003), cites several reasons for his affinity with Mostel.
"He was a big fellow, as I am. With every acting job I've ever done, someone has compared me to Zero." More important, Mostel was a friend and mentor to Brochu, who was 14 when he met the star, then performing in Forum.
"I had never seen a funnier, more explosive performance," Brochu recalls of Mostel as the scheming slave Pseudolus. "He just knocked you back in your seat, he was such a force of nature."
After the show, Brochu ventured backstage to visit with veteran actor and Forum co-star David Burns (a family friend, through Brochu's father).
"I ran into Zero, his costume soaked with sweat. I was going to military school, so I was wearing a uniform. Zero asked 'Who are you? General Nuisance?' I told him, 'I'm Davy Burns' friend; I've come to see him.' And he said, 'You never come to see me.' I said, 'OK, I will.' And he said, 'You'd better!' "
Brochu indeed began visiting backstage with Mostel as well as Burns — marveling at the celebrities he'd encounter in Mostel's dressing room.
The friendship continued, and when Fiddler premiered, Brochu was in the front row, leading the standing ovation.
When Brochu came across an old Theater Arts magazine with Mostel on its cover in 2005, it started him thinking: Could he make a play about Mostel?
"When I began looking into his earlier life, I was floored by the personal and professional obstacles he had to overcome."
Beyond the blacklist and consequent financial hardship for the Mostel family (including wife Kate and sons Joshua and Tobias), there were other frustrations and crises adding drama to Mostel's offstage life.
"For one thing," Brochu says, "his parents (Eastern European Jews who'd immigrated around the turn of the century) cut him off because he married a Christian.
"In 1960, just as he was getting his career back on track after the blacklist, he was hit by a bus. One leg was so badly injured the doctors were going to amputate it. He begged them not to, and they didn't. But they warned him he probably would never walk again. He was hospitalized for four months."
The fact that Mostel not only walked but also gave such vibrant performances as the ones in Forum and Fiddler is a testament to his perseverance.
Perhaps the biggest frustration for Mostel, Brochu says, was that "he feared he would be remembered as 'that fat guy from The Producers' when he saw himself chiefly as a painter. That had been his great ambition since childhood. And from the 1930s on, he spent eight hours a day painting. He always said he did the acting to make the money to buy more paint."
Yet Mostel had only himself to blame: He inadvertently launched his performing career. While working for the WPA as a museum tour guide during the '30s, he couldn't resist veering from the prepared lectures into his improvised comic bits. That led to gigs as a comedian, first at parties, then in Greenwich Village nightclubs. And his reputation as a funnyman led to his first stage roles, then to his movie debut in the 1943 film of DuBarry Was a Lady.
After his '60s peak, he did several films (The Great Bank Robbery, Once Upon a Scoundrel) unworthy of his talent. Just earning money to buy paint, one presumes.
In his final years, he seemed intent on reclaiming the artistic high ground as an actor. He appeared in a revival of his 1958 off-Broadway breakthrough role in Ulysses in Nighttown, received a BAFTA (British Oscar) nomination for his spot-on portrayal of a blacklisted comic not unlike himself in 1975's The Front. He was rehearsing the Philadelphia tryout of The Merchant, Arnold Wesker's revisionist take on Shakespeare's Shylock, when he died.
Brochu has set Zero Hour in Mostel's art studio, two months before his death, as a reporter interviews him about his life and pending stage comeback. The script includes two flashback sequences, in which Brochu relives one of Mostel's early stand-up comedy routines at Cafe Society, and his famous appearance testifying before HUAC.
Premiered last year in Los Angeles, Zero Hour received a Los Angeles Ovation Award as best premiere play.
"To take on the mantle of a one-person show is tremendously angst-making," Brochu admits. "What gets you over that is the love and support of the audience. At the beginning of the (L.A.) run, I knew they were coming to see a play about Zero. By the end of the run, I felt they were coming to see me."
• When: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 18 and Thursday, April 19. Opens at 8 p.m. Friday, April 20. Runs in repertory with I Am My Own Wife , through May 13.
• Where: Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway
• Tickets: $26-$36; 713-527-0123
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Stages Repertory Theater is full of old friends from our trip here four years ago with The Big Voice. We love them and they, thankfully, love us.
The flight was exhausting, but we decided to attend the opening night of "I Am My Own Wife" which, ironically enough, features the same actor we shared a dressing room with the last time we where here. At the time he was at an adjoining stage performing "Dirty Blonde."
Today, Jim has a long day of setting up "Zero Hour." The staff is young and cute. We are looking forward to a wonderful month here. I'll write more later. Right now, it's time for a shower.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
And then, once the song is written, there is the tedious process of getting it recorded. I love it, though. As time-intensive as it may be, it's definitely rewarding to begin with a blank page and end up with a song.
The song I've been focused on this week is one that was on a CD of demos which I gave back in New York to Devin Richards, the singer I've written about more than a few times here in the blog. (He'll be opening on Broadway in "110 In The Shade" very soon -- they've just finished teching.) At the time I gave him the folder of demos, I told him, "Pick whatever songs you like and let's see what happens."
One of the first songs he chose was "Song of Surrender," a song I co-wrote with my friend, Jim Latham. Jim was one of the very first friends I made when we moved to L.A. back in the late 80s. At the time, he was working in a recording studio and we were just two guys trying to make music together. This was one of the songs from those early sessions, and it was always one of Jim Brochu's favorites. So, I was really happy when Devin picked it out.
We worked up a special arrangement in his home studio, lowering the key to fit his voice, and then throwing in a key change to give it some juice. Then we performed it a few times in public at Mark Janas' salon and got a really great response. Still, I knew if we were going to make a good demo, we had a lot of problems to solve. The first being how to collaborate long distance. It's not something I've done before. So, we had to create a method from scratch.
Luckily, when you work with a total pro like Devin, the process reveals itself. The first thing I did was make a piano track and send it to him. He imported that track into his Mac and began singing along. Then, the next morning, I got a note.
"Hey," he said. "I got possessed or something. I may hate this in the morning, but I stayed up until 4am doing nothing but singing this song and making choral tracks to go behind the lead vocal."
It was fantastic. It was amazing. His soulful grace and gospel influences totally blew me away. But how could I import all this and create a full track? What he did was separate each vocal line and send them separately as .wav files. It was a total of six vocal lines. So, I added them one at a time, lined them up and then began creating bass, drum, percussion, strings and horn parts.
I sent it back to him. He critiqued it. I changed it. Resent it. He critiqued it. I changed it. Over and over for a solid week. Slowly but surely it started sounding better and better. I started referring to him as Mr. Perfect because he could hear the most infinitesimal "off" cymbal hit no matter how buried in the arrangement.
Finally, this morning, I did the final mix and got the approval! It was done! In fact, I liked what we did so much, I entered the song in the American Idol Song Contest. Hey, 10 bucks. Why not. It's one of those songs: a big, fat love song with a huge chorus. Just what they're looking for.
So, here it is. I hope you enjoy it.
Listen to the song!
If you're in New York, catch Devin's own solo show:
My Own Voice:
An evening with Devin Richards
The Metropolitan Room
34 W. 22nd (between 5th & 6th)
$20 plus 2 drink minimum
June 4th, 2007
Don't miss this conference sponsored by Beyond Ex-Gay:
And if you never saw this, here is Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out telling the story of catching Exodus President John Paulk in a gay bar on drag night trying to pick up a friend of his:
Sunday, April 08, 2007
BTW, I could totally kill myself. I was such a rush to get out the apartment, I forgot my camera. It was star-studded. Steve Martin, Nichelle Nichols, Carl Ballentine, Rich Bloch (our host), Doris Roberts and many others.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
The Yoke Of Religion by Paul Tillich.
The burden He wants to take from us is the burden of religion. It is the yoke of the law, imposed on the people of His time by the religious teachers, the wise and understanding, as He calls them in our words, the Scribes and Pharisees, as they are called usually. Those who labor and are heavy laden are those who are sighing under the yoke of the religious law. And He will give them the power to overcome religion and law; the yoke He gives them is a "new being" above religion. The thing they will learn from him is the victory over the law of the wise and the understanding, and the law of the Scribes and Pharisees.
Friday, April 06, 2007
(Click on image for larger view.) I can't resist the temptation. Bev, my friend who raises puppies for the ASPCA until they're big enough to be adopted, has been taking care of the most adorable little black puppy named Dakota. Dakota has fallen in love with her other dog, Lizzy, following her everywhere. More pics here.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Luckily, no one was hurt. And thanks to low winds, the firefighters managed to put it out before it got to any buildings. I hadn't realized, though, what it looked like on the Hollywood side of the hill until I saw this picture! What a shot!
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
And here is a video of her singing "Sons of" by Jacques Brel. She's really fantastic: