I wasn't celebrating Thanksgiving Day, 1995, because Steve Schalchlin, my partner of 12 years, was dying. Come next November, I'd be left alone with a handful of songs he had written about his struggle with AIDS.
The first song was called "Connected," an account of his near-death experience at Santa Monica Hospital the previous Mother's Day. He had turned the pain into a melody and the trauma into a song. And when he played it for friends, I could see that the creative energy of composing songs was having as positive an effect on his health as any medicines he had been prescribed. I started giving him musical "homework," and within a two-week period he had written five songs that became the spine of what was to become The Last Session.
Since I was a playwright, Steve kept urging me to write a musical with his songs but, alas, I could think of no way to incorporate bitingly autobiographical songs into a fictional setting. Until that Thanksgiving night.
We were having dinner with Bob Cox, a friend who has a recording studio in his home. As Steve sat at the keyboard and other friends stood at microphones, the set, plot, and story of The Last Session was given in a flash of grace. I turned to Steve and said I just saw the whole play in my head. A week later, the first draft was written.
The journey from the dream to the New York reality took 18 months, lightning speed in terms of producing musicals. Our first stop was the Cinegrill of the Hollywood Roosevelt on March 4, 1996, where ASCAP, along with the National Academy of Songwriters, produced a staged reading of The Last Session hosted by Rue McClanahan before a packed house. From there, the show took on a life of its own.
Ronda and Kim Espy of Bob-a-Lew Music saw the audience reaction at the Cinegrill and encouraged us to develop the show in a workshop. In July 1996, Gary Guidinger and Linda Toliver of the Zephyr Theatre in West Hollywood agreed to produce a three week run of The Last Session in association with Irene Oppenheim of Firehouse Productions.
Former Golden Theatre producer Carl White, and Irvine native, saw the reading and optioned the show for New York. With financial backing from a fan of the show, a staged reading of The Last Session was presented at the John Houseman Theatre on November 15, 1996 - a year to the day after the show was conceived.
Producers from the Currican Theatre, a hundred-seat off-off-Broadway house on West 29th Street, saw the reading and offered to produce a three-week showcase of the work which officially opened in New York City on May 8, 1997. With the help of Ronda and Kim Espy, Carl White, Jamie Cesa, Michael Alden, Jay Cardwell, Nancy Gibbs, Amy Kiehl, Andrew Miller, Don Kirkpatrick, and Jeremy Koch, The Last Session transferred to the 47th Street on October 17, 1997. The three-week showcase turned into a nine-month run.
And now we've come home to Southern California, where it all began. Although there have been many blessings attached to The Last Session, the greatest blessing is that the composer lived. With the help of the protease cocktails, Steve is healthier than ever.
- Jim Brochu
(The above was written by Jim during the recent sold-out Laguna run of The Last Session. The show, complete with the amazing Laguna cast, is now playing at The Tiffany Theater, 8532 Sunset Blvd, in Los Angeles. Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm., Saturdays at 5:00 and 9:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 and 7:00 pm. Box Office 310-289-2999.)
Long live The Last Session!
See You Thursday!
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