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Broadway Bullet Interview: The Big Voice: God or Merman?

This week we interview Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin the creators of "The Big Voice: God or Meman?"  As a bonus they performed two songs from the show live in the studio: "In the Closet" and "Beyond the Light."

"The Big Voice: God or Merman?"  is the story of Steve's and Jim's relationship as they struggle with an AIDS diagnoses, put on a play, and eventually find salvation in musical theatre. Steve and Jim created the show and played themselves in the show as it toured the country and in New York. Starting March 17th actors Carl Danielsen and Dale Radunz will take over as "Steve" and "Jim." The show is directed by Anthony Barnao.

"The Big Voice: God or Meman?" is playing at The Actor's Temple Theatre. For tickets please visit Telecharge 

You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 106. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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Broadway Bullet Interview: Jim Brochu and Steve Schlachlin of The Big Voice: God or Merman?

BROADWAY BULLET: "The Big Voice" is a musical that has been running Off-Broadway since November 30th; and not only is it a real live love story between the composer and book writer, but we have the composer and book writer with us today.  How are you guys?

Steve Schalchlin:  We're fine Michael, how are you? 

Jim Brochu" Excellent, excellent.

BB: Great, would you like to introduce yourselves quickly?

STEVE: No.  I'm Steve Schalchlin, the composer and lyricist.

JIM: And I'm Jim Brochu and I wrote the book to this marvelous musical.

BB: What was the inspiration for this musical? 

JIM: The inspiration was a call from the Laguna Playhouse saying we'll pay you a lot of money to come down and for a one night show and entertain.

STEVE: It's our favorite kind of inspiration.

JIM: We had, our first musical was called The Last Session, which ran in New York – it had a respectable run about ten years ago. And then the Laguna Playhouse in California produced it.  And about four years ago they said "We're doing three special evenings, why don't you guys come down and tell a couple of stories about your life.  Sing a couple of new songs, sing some old songs."  And I wrote the book around Steve's new songs and titled it "The Big Voice: God or Merman".

STEVE: He had kind of been putting it together because I had been on the road doing solo concerts and he had been at home taking care of the cats.  So he was just trying to figure out something we could do together.  And so we got an idea about writing a show around the two of us so we could go around perform somewhere.  What we didn't realize when we got the call from Laguna Playhouse was that it would end up in the theater; we had thought maybe a little night club act, we were just riding it letting it speak for ourselves.

JIM: I was thinking more of the metropolitan opera houses as the final place for this, but anyway, we went down to Laguna and the place came apart, they loved it.  And we though," well maybe we have a show here", so we put it into a workshop, a producer from the Zipper Theater in LA said yeah, we'll produce it and we'll give you a three week run.  Well, three weeks turned into four months, and that turned into a tour in Rochester, New York, and a theater in Huston heard about it, from Houston we went to Omaha, to Chicago, to Dallas, to Palm Springs, back for another run in Los Angeles where we were presented with the Los Angeles equivalent of the Tony award called the Ovation award for best musical, presented to us by Jerry Herman.  So it's really been quite a journey from this one phone call that we thought "we'll go down for this one evening"; and it's turned into a journey of five thousand miles, now five hundred performances, and eight cities, and a lot of new friends. 

BB: And it opened November 30th in New York, so you guys have been doing this for quite a while.

JIM: Yes, the first performance was the 12th of August 2002 that was the night at Laguna.

BB: As we interview you, you guys are getting ready to replace yourselves in the show for the first time. 

JIM: You know, it's something we've always wanted to do when we were first writing the show.  In fact, a lot of producers were hesitant about bringing us to New York because they said "we don't know if the show can stand without the two of you in it."

STEVE: Because we're both so magnetic and wonderful onstage I can understand their trepidation.

BB: I think they're probably referring to the fact that it's mostly autobiographical.


BB: It's a two man one man musical!

JIM: We call it a duet for one or solo for two, or what do we call it?  Actually the subtitle is "A Musical Comedy in Two Lives".  And that, oh that doesn't work anymore without the intermission; but anyway.

STEVE: It's still two lives!

JIM: It is still two lives.  We had always been curious about other guys doing the show, and we had a commitment coming up that we knew we could run for four or five months and committed to that.  I tell you Michael, to be absolutely honest, we thought we would come into New York and we'd get kind of dissed – you know "okay,, here they are, you know it's alright, not very exciting" and then the reviews came out.  A love letter, a rave in The New York Times, like anything.  We got raves in Variety and The Village Voice and everything, they all just came out.  You know, it was very touching, what they had to say about the show, so all the sudden we were in for a run, I have another commitment, he and I have to go to Huston to do another play in April, and the show was sustaining itself.  So the producers said, "how do you feel about two other guys taking over?" and we said "we're all for it".  And two guys came in, Dale Raidance and Carl Danielson and they were us, and we laughed, and we said "do you want to be us?" and they said "yes" so they get to take over on March 17th  and continue The Big Voice while we go off to Texas!

STEVE: That's the great thing about being in New York, there are such great actors here that; and it was incredible, in the auditions, watching them do our lines, and calling themselves by our names, and getting laughs where we never got laughs!  They're really, really good, so I am genuinely thrilled that New York actors just come in and take these roles and make them their own.  And we always dreamed, we never knew we were writing a full scale musical, and that's what it is.  If you think about it, actors always play other characters on a stage, and they play people whether they are real or fictional.  So the fact that it's two real people doesn't make any difference, they are still playing two characters.

BB: Well before we continue you guys are going to perform a couple of numbers here, live here in the studio for us.  So would you like to set up the first song for us now?

STEVE: This is a song about living in the closet and the effects and evils of living in the closet, and how both of us survived our younger days – me in a small town in Arkansas and him in, where were you in?

JIM: I was in a military school in Oakdale Long Island in an academy called Lesau Academy.

STEVE: See, he was going to grow up to be the first Brooklyn born Pope.

JIM: I wanted to, then my father introduced me to Ethel Merman when I was thirteen, and my life changed forever. 

STEVE: I was going to grow up to be Ted Haggert.

Listen to "In the Closet" in Broadway Bullet volume 106


BB: Alright, I think one interesting thing about the show, obviously, is the title.  Why don't you explain a bit about what the title has in meaning for you guys.

JIM: Well the Big Voice, if you go back to the Old Testament of the Bible, you never saw God, you always heard his voice – "Let there be light", "Let there be this", "Noah build and ark".  So there was always the big voice from the sky, and I started to think about Ethel Merman being the big voice of show business and the show is about where do you find your religion, where do you find your heart?  Do you find it in, I should say where do you find your spirituality?  Do you find it in a church, or do you find it in a theater?  And for us, we have had more life changing experiences in a theater than in we did in a church.  So the Big Voice in your head: is it God or is it the voice of Merman?  Where do these little voices come from in your head, and change your life, that make you think "I'm going to walk down this street today rather than this street".  And you meet an old friend that you might not have seen had you gone that way or the other.  It's about the choices you make in life and stuff like that.

STEVE: And it's funny!  And it's funny!

BB: Did you feel different writing songs that were more autobiographical rather than some of the songs you had written in the past?

JIM: All of his stuff is autobiographical.

STEVE: Well, everything I've written is autobiographical.  Our first musical was, well first off Broadway was The Last Session, and it was a bunch of songs I had written about my struggle with HIV.  And so Jimmy wrote a book about people in a recording studio making an album.  So that's about, pretty much, what I write.

BB: So how long does it take compiling the songs, the book, and assembling it all together about? 

JIM: Oh my god, it took us all of about ten days. 

STEVE: Actually, I began writing songs just about after The Last Session closed here in New York in 1998, 1997.

JIM: Last Session closed in March of '98, we had opened in May of '97 and the last performance was March '98.

STEVE: And I began writing songs randomly.  The way Jimmy and I discovered we write better, I sort of get possessed by an idea, and I just write songs randomly.  I sort of follow this thing I get obsessed about, and I'll come up with a thousand different scenario and say "Hey, let's fit these songs into this kind of scenario!" or "Let's do that!".  And all the sudden, at one point, he'll – I feel like it's the Tom Sawyer method, I'm painting the fence – wait, not Tom Sawyer, the other one.

JIM: No, that's it, white washing the fence, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher were doing smarmy things together. 

STEVE: I'll start painting the fence and all the sudden he'll grab the brush away from me and go –

JIM: That's not the way to paint it!  I'll paint it!  And that's pretty much what happened with The Big Voice.  What I do, is I call Steve's songs "the jewels of the show".  Because each song is a beautiful gem of a story.  And what I do, is I'm like the jewel setter.  I write the book to set the jewels.

BB: Let's listen to one more of these jewels.

STEVE: We can go ahead and just play it.

Click to listen to "Beyond the Light" in Broadway Bullet volume 106

BB: Now the new cast is stepping in on...

JIM: March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day here in beautiful New York City.  Carl Danielson and Dale Raidance. 

STEVE: Can't wait, they're so good!

JIM: Yeah, they're wonderful.

BB: We wish you the best of luck with the show continuing.

JIM and STEVE: Thank you!

BB: What do you have coming up in April?  You said you have something going on.

JIM: We are going to Huston.  I am doing a new play that we tried out in Los Angeles last year called Zero Hour, and it's a one man show where I play the late, great Zero Mostel.  And we'll be bringing that back to New York next season.  And then we have a new musical we're working on, we'll be bringing that back after Zero Hour.  So life is good right now. 

STEVE: Line 'em up and knock 'em down.  By the way, we are playing down at the Actors Temple Theater which is actually a working synagogue.  We found it funny that it's their first Off-Broadway musical in this space.  And so the first musical in this Jewish space is about a gay marriage between a Baptist and a Catholic.  Only in New York folks!

BB: Only in New York!  Well thanks so much for coming down, and best of luck.

JIM: Thank you Michael!

BB: Thank you!


You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 106. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

 or MP3 Feed with XML

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From This Author Michael Gilboe