Living in the Bonus Round
Steve Schalchlin is my kind of guy. I don't think I've ever met anyone more sincere in caring for his fellow man. Everyone on the web knows Steve. He's the guy who published his on-line diaries about what it was like being only inches away from death. Steve expected to die from full-blown AIDS about 6 years ago and then discovered crixivan 3 years ago, the drug which saved his life. A songwriter by profession, he put his experiences down on paper with playwright Jim Brochu, and as a result, the little miracle of a musical, The Last Session (TLS), was born.
Greeted with critical acclaim, TLS enjoyed a healthy Off-Broadway run but had to close due to a theatre shortage at the time. It next appeared at Laguna Beach Playhouse and then moved to the Tiffany Theatre in Los Angeles where it received rave notices and was nominated for some Ovation Awards. Soon, it will be playing in other major cities across the nation.
Because of the musical's success, Steve Schalchlin has found a new career. He's constantly on tour doing his own one-man show, Living in the Bonus Round, at various theatres, churches, colleges and community centers throughout the country. In this show, he talks about religion, about AIDS, and how he wrote The Last Session with Brochu. And, of course, he plays piano and sings his songs.
He begins his show with some funny anecdotes. When he hit the opening notes of "Save Me A Seat" I was transported back to TLS. The song is about a memorial service, and to say the least, it's haunting. Off-Broadway, Bob Stillman sang the song in the role of Gideon. Here, Steve is singing his own life and it takes on a whole new dimension. "Somebody's Friend" and "The Group" are next. During the songs you hear people getting out a kleenex. It's totally heartbreaking to think that the performer had gone through all the horrors of living and almost dying of AIDS. Schalchlin knows how far to go and lightens up the crowd with another amusing anecdote.
Not one to hog the spotlight Steve introduces a friend, C.J. Liotta, while not a regular castmember, he does a rousing "At Least I Know What's Killing Me." What's interesting is that after about a half-hour there's a subtle bonding of the audience. Sort of like, we're all in this together folks. Another friend takes the stage and sings a song from a show Steve is currently working on. "The Sad Lady" is sung by Jonathan Sturch with such a passion that the audience is cheering. Schalchlin, jokingly, gets rid of him quick. "Going It Alone" is a song that kills me, and I was hoping Steve would not perform it. Of course, he does, and I don't have any kleenex. Yet, I found a new kind of beauty to the song, and I was glad that he performed it.
The pace of the second part is brisk and filled with lighter material. "Friendly Fire" had the audience singing and tapping their feet, and the anthem "When You Care" became a hymn-like sing-a-long.
Steve receives the standing "O" with a big smile. He's reached his audience and has gotten his message across. The show is entertaining too. As in cabaret, there is no fourth wall, and the audience becomes a part of the drama.
You can check out www.bonusround.com for Steve's upcoming appearances, or you can write to him if your college or organization is interested in having Living in the Bonus Round come to your area. Personally, I think he should take the show to New York in either a cabaret club or Off-Broadway. It's theatre in the purest sense of the word.
I met up with Steve after the show and we chatted. He's got more energy than me and he's just so enthusiastic about what he's doing. I say goodbye and he yells out, "Love ya, Veej." And I smile because it's hard not to love a guy like Steve Schalchlin.
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