Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jim Brochu: Character Man

Never too late
-Jim Brochu

Jim Brochu (“Zero Hour,” “The Big Voice: God or Merman?”) will debut his new solo show Character Man at the Triad Theatre on Monday, October 1st at 9pm for one performance only.
Jim Brochu’s trajectory into show business started on the alter. As an alter boy, he thought theater and church were very similar. He was on a “stage” and there were costumes, and lights, and wonderful music. 

The first time he ever got a laugh, he was five years old in nursery school in Bayridge, Brooklyn. He was a magician, he screwed up a trick, the audience roared and he thought, “Gee, I like that sound.”
David L. Lander and Jim Brochu, The Front Page
Jim was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He grew up in the Catholic Church, knowing that he was going to be the first Brooklyn born pope. When Jim was thirteen, his father introduced him to his friend Ethel Merman. 

Meeting Ethel Merman after a matinee of Gypsy, which was a religious experience for Jim in which the path ahead of him became very clear. 

At that defining moment, Jim’s church became the theater.

When it comes to working on his craft, Jim is a night person. Steve Schalchlin, Jim’s partner of twenty-eight years, is completely the opposite. He gets up each morning around four AM to write. He writes, and composes, and does his lyrics. Jim doesn’t start working until about ten PM. That’s when the ideas seem to come and he works for a couple of hours. He doesn’t have a set routine. He waits for real inspiration to hit. Until then, he watches The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
The advice that Jim would give to anyone who wishes to follow in his footsteps is to focus. He thinks one of the reasons it has taken Jim so long to achieve what he has achieved is that he has loved writing, he has loved directing, he has loved producing. He has produced thirty two shows. He has directed twenty plays. His main love has always been acting and being on stage. He has always put that aside to do other things. If someone wants a career in the theater, his advice to them is to be absolutely laser focused. 
THE BIG VOICE – Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin. Photo by Ed Krieger
It is not always talent that wins out. It is that drive, that incredible singular drive. Keep your eye on the prize and go for it and put blinders on until you arrive and then enjoy the view.
Jim and I spoke over the phone around three PM on Sunday afternoon, September 23rd. I asked Jim what work he had done THAT day on his craft and/or career. He had just had a meeting with his director, Robert Bartley  to discuss his next appearance, Character Man, to be presented Monday night at The Triad (See below for more details).   
In 2006, Robert created Broadway Backwards, an annual event for which he continues to direct, choreograph and write special material. He is also directing this new off-Broadway show called Bedbugs. The team was over, including one of my favorite musical directors John Fischer. 
He is an old friend of Jim’s. 

Jim and John worked together about ten years ago. 
They have remained friends. Jim says there is nobody better than he is. The team was over because Jim actually debuted this show recently on a cruise ship. About two weeks prior to this interview, they were caught in thirty foot seas for six days in a row and they missed two ports. They needed extra entertainment and the cruise director asked Jim if the Character Man show was ready. Of course Jim told him yes and they plowed through it. 
Everyone came over on the morning of the 23rd to see a video of that show, Jim’s producer, Jeramiah Peay and his stage manager, John Myer, and, of course, Steve. They worked on it and Jim was given notes and ideas. 
That was the work of the day.
Jim is very proud of a show that opened last night in London, The Last Session. It is a show that was born out of a lot of heartache. 
It deals with Steve’s own personal struggles with HIV and it was written at a very dark time in their lives. It is a story about triumph and hope. They had a nine month off-Broadway with it with Bob Stillman.   
“Bob Stillman’s nervy performance is like a live wire that both holds the show together and electrifies it.”-Feingold, Village Voice
Fifteen years later, it is now being done in London. Jim and Steve were able to go over and meet the cast and watch the rehearsals. 

Jim says they are all sensational. 
Steve is in London for last night’s opening. It has come full circle. Jim is also proud of Zero Hour, truly one of the best biographical shows I have ever seen. This is Jim’s show about Zero Mostel which is an idea which took about thirty years to come to fruition. 
Back in January of 1970, Jim did an off-Broadway show called Unfair to Goliath
Back then, Jerry Tallmer who wrote for The New York Post, said, “If they ever do the Zero Mostel story, Jim Brochu should play the part.” 
About ten years ago, Jim started to really think about this idea. He was approaching the age Zero was when he died. 
He died at the age of sixty two. Zero was in his late fifties and thought that if he was going to do it, he might as well do it then. 
He started reading everything he could get his hands on. He talked to anybody he could talk to who knew Zero. The script kind of wrote itself. He was supposed to do six weeks in Los Angeles which has now turned into six years and almost six hundred performances.
Zero Mostel - King Of Kings
When Jim was working on Zero Hour, he studied Zero’s paintings. He was very fortunate one night. A total stranger in the audience came up to Jim after a performance and told him that her father shared a studio with Zero. They had “bought” each other’s paintings when they were low on money. They exchanged paintings instead of giving charity. Her father accumulated a lot of Zero’s paintings and she gave Jim one. He is fortunate enough to have an original Mostel hanging in his living room!  Jim also listens to music when he is working on a show. Music is his great inspiration.
Linda Purl provided this next question for me. Who do you pray to when you are in trouble? Jim’s answer is Ethel Merman! St. Ethel.
And the one thing that Jim would pray for is turning back to the way things were in this industry. 
When Jim first started out in this industry, there was a way for actors to make the rounds and see casting directors and agents. Now, there is a security guy at every building. You need an ID and you need an appointment. He wishes we could go back to the old days where it was a little bit more social and less scary. 
He also wishes ticket prices will go down.
When Jim is putting together a show, he works with the end in mind. 
That’s where he starts. He tries to figure out where he desires the show to go. 
In the ten straight plays that he has written, that’s what he usually starts with. 
How does this end? Then he starts at the beginning with the characters. Sometimes, it doesn’t get to where he originally envisioned. It may have a completely different ending. That is his process.
   Jim is usually at a lucky place when it comes to attracting his audiences. He is normally at a place in which his producers take on that responsibility. They usually have a publicity plan and they still rely on newspapers and the printed word to get the word out. They take out ads. When Jim is doing a show like Character Man, which I am happy to say is almost sold out…Monday night; he uses social media like Facebook, Email, and his mailing list, to let people know that way.

When he works with a producer, he goes back to that word “focus”. 
He needs to keep his eye on creating the show, being there and being present, and let someone else do that kind of work.

Leading up to show time, Jim plays poker till show time, clears his throat, and walks out on stage. If there are no poker players around, Jim does a crossword puzzle until about fifteen minutes before show time. It is almost a form of meditation. It gets Jim out of the world and into his mind and he’s using his brain.  
I asked Jim if there is any show throughout history that he wishes he had seen. He would have loved to have seen the original production of Out of This World, the Cole Porter show that starred George Gaynes and Charlotte Greenwood and Davey Burns. Jim thinks it is one of the best forgotten scores. It wasn’t a big hit of Porter’s, but the cast was absolutely spectacular. The original cast album is so wonderful and funny. David Burns sings a song with Charlotte called Cherry Pies Ought to Be You. It is a riff on a song performed earlier in the show by William Redfield and Barbara Ashley as a real love song version. David Burns and Charlotte Greenwood sang lyrics like “Shooting Pains Out to be you. When it rains, it ought to be you.” 
It was quite a clever show. That is the one show he would have liked to have seen.      
Charlotte Greenwood
I asked Jim if he had any vocal remedies for throat issues for my singer friends that read this blog. Jim says he doesn’t have sore throats, usually. He is of the Ethel Merman School of singing. It’s always been there. He clears his throat before going out on stage. When he did the show recently on the ship, he had a sinus infection. People told him he sounded better than ever.
Jim’s fondest memory among many is the day he met Steve. It was twenty- eight years ago. Steve was playing One More Kiss from Follies on a ship. Jim was singing by himself with drink in hand. At the end, Steve went over to Jim and asked how he knew that song. 

I hope that you’ll join me next Monday night for Character Man, but ACT FAST! 

Jim tells me this is a very personal show about these great character men of whom we’ll never see the likes of again. These men all influenced Jim. Steven Schwartz is also scheduled to be there. The last song of the show is For Good from Wicked. There is a line from that song that goes, “Because I knew You, I’ve been changed for good.”  Because Jim knew Davie Burns, Lou Jacobi, Jack Gilford, Jack Albertson, and Charles Nelson Reilly, he has been changed for good. I can say the same thing about Jim Brochu, MY favorite character man!

“Character Man” is a salute to the great supporting players of Broadway, filled with touching backstage stories and personal recollections. Written by Brochu, the show spotlights the work of Jack Gilford, Jackie Gleason, Robert Preston, Zero Mostel, George S. Irving, Cyril Ritchard, Barney Martin and Brochu’s own mentor and friend, two-time Tony Award winner, David Burns.

                With direction by Robert Bartley (creator/director of “Broadway Backwards” and the upcoming “Bedbugs: The Musical.”)  “Character Man” features the songs of Kander and Ebb, Bock and Harnick, Meredith Willson, Stephen Sondheim, Bob Merrill and Stephen Schwartz among others. John Fischer is musical director.
                Brochu, who will share photos and videos from his own collection during the evening said, “There would be no Broadway without these men who supported the great stars and got the laughs without getting the girl. I began my own career as a character man at a time when I got to know these men and learn from them. David Burns was like a second father to me and I grew up backstage hanging out with him and Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford and Charles Nelson Reilly and John Carradine. They were amazing, dear, funny
Jim Brochu as Zero Mostel. Photo credit: Michael Lamont
men and I don’t want them to be forgotten.”
                “Character Man” will have an Off-Broadway run next year after Brochu has wrapped up commitments to his “Zero Hour” tour. Steve Schalchlin and Jeramiah Peay are presenting the one-night only Triad Theatre performance. Tickets are $20.00 (cover charge) plus two drink minimum and are available at Brown Paper Tickets (800-838-3006) or Online at: TriadNYC.Com.

Thank you Jim Brochu for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

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