BWW Reviews: Brochu Pays Tribute to the Peculiar in CHARACTER MAN
Playwright/actor Jim Brochu nabbed the 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance with one of the more memorable NSFW acceptance speeches in the organization's history, playing one of his boyhood idols, Zero Mostel.
Now Brochu returns Off-Broadway with Character Man, a terrifically funny and touching tribute to many of his other idols he was fortunate enough to encounter as a young actor. Directed by Robert Bartley, it's ninety minutes that will warm the heart of anyone who has ever looked out from an audience with awe and wonder.
"Webster's defines a character man as an actor, one who plays either leading or supporting parts, but one that displays unusual characteristics or peculiarities," our storyteller explains at the top of the show.
And that's me. I'm peculiar."
Brochu is also charmed, you might say. His father was a friend of the great Broadway character man, David Burns, and as a young teenager he'd often congregate with them at Toots Shor's for dinner after performances of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum.
Burns, who became a lifelong friend and mentor, was responsible for getting the boy his first job in theatre; selling orange drinks at the Alvin Theatre. At every performance he studied the antics of great clowns like Burns, Mostel, Jack Gilford and John Carradine and was inspired to pursue a career as the actor who didn't always get the girl, but certainly got the laughs.
Not an impersonation show, the musical memoir also includes episodes involving Broadway luminaries like Jackie Gleason, George S. Irving, Jack Klugman, Bert Lahr, Cyril Ritchard and Barney Martin; some he worked with, some he met through David Burns and others he saw perform nightly while selling orange drinks.
Played by music director Carl Haan on a grand piano, great signature songs like "If I Were A Rich Man," "Meeskite," "Trouble" and "The Butler's Song" display Brochu's own exceptional character acting skills, but Character Man is at its cleverest when the musical moments are incorporated into the storytelling. His feelings of being a young actor struggling to find work are expressed through "Mr. Cellophane," his nervousness at being interviewed by a panel of his idols for membership to the Players Club inspires a rewritten version of "The Late, Late Show" and his tribute to Kathleen Freeman and other great ladies of character carries the theme, "It Takes A Woman."
I won't mention the song he uses for the show's closing because it seems like such an odd choice. That is, until he reveals a little fact that allows it to all make sense.
Though young actors looking for role models may not be familiar with the work of many of the men Brochu talks about, the yearning to be the next ______ can be appreciated by a teenage soprano who idolizes Audra McDonald and Kelli O'Hara or a dance student studying tapes of Fred Astaire and The Nicholas Brothers.
And if it inspires someone to find out more about this guy, Lou Jacobi, so much the better,