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Instant Hit: The Big Voice: God or Merman?

When  you step into the Actor's Temple Theater, the new Off Broadway location on 47th Street for the performance of The Big Voice: God or Merman, you find ample performance space and seating with adorning stained glass windows and a simple set.  It's not until the co-writers and performers, Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin come out on stage singing the show's opening song that you are 100 percent sure the play's title intended to mean Merman – as in Ethel – rather than the big creature with a tail living in the sea. 

 

The Big Voice: God or Merman chronicles the lives of Brochu and Schalchlin, the writers of the Last Session from their childhood to present day.  Although both actors come from different backgrounds, Brochu a Brooklyn-born Catholic and Schalchlin a Baptist from Arkansas, each share a similar struggle as youths trying to figure out their religious life and where they belong in it.  You soon learn that the "big voice" they keep referring to is the same voice we've all wondered about.  In those awkward years of growing up and deciding which direction to take with life, haven't we all secretly, if not out loud, wished that some voice from above would tell us what to do and if not, at least that things would be okay?  Both Brochu and Schalchlin wonder if they should follow the path of the church, which is what they have always known, even if it doesn't appear to completely live up to its hype. They ponder the question because they have each found another medium – music - that gives them the satisfaction they've been yearning for all along.  It's not until a chance meeting aboard a cruise ship in the Bermuda Triangle that they discover what it is they are meant to do in life and that they are to do it together.

                             

 

After a quick courtship, al la Romeo and Juliet tempo, Brochu and Schalchlin move in with each other and share some of the happiest times of their lives.  Life is good, family and friends all get a long and both Brochu and Schalchlin are doing what they love.  It's not until Schalchlin learns he has "it" – AIDS – that the couple truly experiences the first test in their relationship.  After many arguments and plenty of chances to just give up, Brochu and Schalchlin seem to make it through the initial shock brought into their lives through music.  It is within these circumstances that the Last Session is born.  The success of the Last Session brings renewed hope and joy into their lives, but it is unfortunately short-lived as the couple endures yet another test in their relationship.  The couple briefly separates due to personality changes in Schalchlin brought on by his medication, but are eventually drawn back to each other driven by the desire to love and celebrate each other for exactly who they are.

                                     

 

The Big Voice: God of Merman encapsulates why we love theater.  It's a show that somehow manages to bring a smile to the face, a tear to the eye and laughter all the way through.  It is a comedy celebrating gay marriage that effortlessly weaves together humor with a touch of drama. There are countless jokes, both obvious and subtle that poke fun at the main characters.  From the outright, stereotypical dialogue of "are you a Judy-fan or an Ethel-fan" to the quick-paced back and forth banter and intelligently written lyrics of the show's score, the show makes you both think for and appreciate the humor it supplies.  In addition to the script the score, encompasses many fun-loving and heart-wrenching tunes which add another dimension to the already endearing storyline.  Brochu and Schalchlin do a fantastic job when it comes to supplying the melody and harmony – out of no where your ears are delighted by the fullness of the music and you are surprised that such volume and sound are simply coming from two men and a keyboard.  It's a score including just the right mix of soul-exposing solos with fun, upbeat and light-hearted Broadway tunes; it's easy to envision the CD sitting in your car for that long road trip you're planning to make by yourself so you can sing along. 

 

Ultimately, The Big Voice: God or Merman accomplishes what it sets out to do.  The autobiographical play tells of Brochu's and Schalchlin's story and celebrates it.  There is no over-emphasis on the good and no cutting back on the bad things that occur throughout their lives – rather, it simply "just is."  It is the genuine story of how Brochu and Schalchlin began thinking they'd save people in the church, but ended up saving others – and themselves – in theater.  Somehow, a play that revolves around religion and gay relationships never gives even the staunchest conservative reason to complain – it's a true story of perseverance and achieving dreams without ever taking itself too seriously.  The Big Voice: God or Merman is a smart, funny and touching performance – one that makes Broadway happy to welcome Brochu and Schalchlin back with open arms. 

 

The Big Voice: God of Merman plays Tuesday – Thursday at 8pm, Friday 10:30pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm and 7pm at the Actor's Temple Theater located at 339 West 47th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.  Purchase tickets through Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or on www.Telecharge.com.  For more show information, please visit www.TheBigVoice.com .

Photo Credit: Ed Krieger

 

 

 

       


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