Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New World Waking

“New World Waking” stars composer Steve Schalchlin with Josh Anderson, aka Saul Tannenbaum; Lauren O’Neal of Tush Burlesque fame; Christina Collins, aka Mona Van Horn; and students from South Puget Sound Community College. It is a fundraiser for PFLAG-Olympia.

As a professional theater critic I must be unbiased in writing about this upcoming show even though I am the current president of PFLAG-Olympia, and even though Steve is an old friend. My professional reputation is at stake.

To hell with that. I love Steve Schalchlin, and I can’t wait to see him perform again, and if you miss this show you’ll be missing a rare and amazing show.

Steve first made friends with my wife, Gabi, about 15 years ago when he was searching online for information on PFLAG. She mentioned she was a member of the organization on her single page website dedicated to the memory of our son Bill, and they began exchanging emails. At the time Steve was a singer/songwriter who had written the lyrics for an autobiographical musical called “The Last Session” about a singer/songwriter who is dying of AIDS (the book of the play was written by his partner, Jim Brochu). Steve sent Gabi an audio tape of his music; we listened to it and were blown away. The lyrics were hilarious, heartbreaking and angry; and the music was a blending of gospel, rock and show tunes.

Soon after that he found a producer for his play and it opened off-off Broadway. The play got rave reviews and was extended. Steve started on new AIDS medications that brought him back from the edge, to what he refers to as “Living in the Bonusround” and eventually TLS went to an off-Broadway theater and then toured the country with performances in Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, Houston, Baltimore, Denver and other cities.

“The Last Session” was nominated for Best Musical by the New York Drama League and the New York Outer Critics Circle. It received five Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards including Best Production, Best Book, Best Music & Lyrics and Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, Michele Mais. It also received Outstanding Los Angeles Theatre Production by the prestigious GLAAD Media Awards along with the PFLAG-LA Oscar Wilde Award for promoting understanding through the arts. And Steve was nominated for an L.A. Ovation award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical.

I saw “The Last Session” in Laguna Beach. By then we had already become close friends with Steve, so I was not unbiased. The show rocked.

Following TLS, Steve and Jimmy wrote and starred in the hit two-person musical, “The Big Voice: God or Merman,” about a Catholic boy torn between wanting to be the next Ethel Merman or the first American Pope, and his partner, a gay Missionary Baptist from Arkansas. 

This will not be Steve’s first performance in Olympia. He’s performed here three previous times for PFLAG fundraisers, and each time his performances were electrifying. His music and his story telling are funny and passionate.

In 2007 he also came to Olympia to play the piano John Lennon composed “Imagine” on -- a little cigarette-scarred upright -- for an intimate audience of friends on a sunny day in May underneath a tree on our front lawn. The singer George Michael and his partner, Dallas gallery owner Kenny Goss, bought Lennon’s piano and sent it on a peace mission to places where acts of violence have occurred on the anniversary of that occurrence, such as Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where John F. Kennedy was shot, and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that was blown up by Timothy McVeigh. Among those sites was our home where our son Bill committed suicide as the result of a gay bashing. When Michael and Goss read Bill's story on the Internet  they were touched and wanted to bring the piano here.

When Steve played “Imagine” and the song he wrote about our son Bill, “Will It Always Be Like This?” he turned a memorial to that moment of tragedy into a moment of shared joy. And he said it was that moment that inspired him to write a suite of songs dedicated to peace which became “New World Waking.”

“New World Waking” was first presented in 2008 by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at Davies Symphony Hall with Academy Award-nominated actress, Piper Laurie and Tony award-winner Jennifer Holliday. It has since been performed in both major concert halls and small cabaret-style settings in Miami, New York and other locations.

In Olympia, Steve and guests will do the complete score of “New World Waking” and favorites from his hit musicals, “The Last Session” and “The Big Voice.”

WHEN: Friday July 29th and Saturday, July 30th at 8 p.m.

WHERE: The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Black Box Theater, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia, WA 98512

TICKETS: $20 general admission, $10 SPSCC students.

More information about Steve and these concerts:

The benefit is for PFLAG, the nation's foremost family-based organization committed to the civil rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons and promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends through: Support to cope with an adverse society, Education to enlighten an ill-informed public, and Advocacy to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights. PFLAG-Olympia welcomes all allies, straight and GLBTQ. http://www.pflag-olympia.org/

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