Hmmm... a hip, Off-Off-Broadway musical, about a young musician with AIDS, that's looking for a commercial New York run. Sound familiar?
No, it's not Rent.
It's The Last Session, a sleeper hit this summer at NY's Currican Theatre that has transfered to the 47th Street Theatre for a commercial run, opening tonight, Oct. 17. Producing the work commercially are Carl D. White & Jamie Cesa with Michael Alden & Jay Cardwell, and Kim & Ronda Espy/Bob-A-Lew Music. The show began previews Oct. 9.
Session began performances at the Currican May 8 and was originally supposed to run through June 29. Then it was extended to July 20 when, already, the producers were looking for a larger, Off-Broadway venue for the show.
Composed by Steve Schalchlin with a book by Jim Brochu, the musical is based on Schalchlin's real-life battle with AIDS -- one he seems to be winning. In the play, the character Gideon, a songwriter with AIDS, puts together the "perfect" recording session with old friends before declining health makes it impossible for him to work. When Buddy, an fundamentalist Christian, enters the session, the two worlds collide. Brochu's previous plays include A Short Circuit, Fat Chance and The Lady Of The House.
Not only is Schalchin's progress something of a miraculous success story, he's gotten somewhat famous for tracking his daily progress in an online diary at his website, http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/1173. Called "The Steve Schalchlin Survival Site," the website charts not only his medical progress and setbacks, but his musical career and news on The Last Session (to which discount tickets are also offered at the site).
Several songs from The Last Session are on Schalchlin's CD, "Living In The Bonus Round." Tunes include, "Somebody's Friend," "Connected," and "Going It Alone." Other songs in the show include, "At Least I Know What's Killing Me," and "Friendly Fire."
Originally intended as a way to keep his family in Texas aware of his condition, Schalchlin's website got national attention when its owner began taking protease inhibitors that changed not only his lifespan, but the quality of his life. Here's a sample entry from July 24:
"I've made reference here to my "Crix Belly." It's a condition some people on Crixivan are experiencing. My belly is slightly enlarged, but it's solid. In fact, you can see the muscle lines across my stomach (if I stand in a really good light), so it doesn't feel like fat. It's hard. The other strange thing -- and I think I mentioned it here before, is that my belly button went from an 'inny' to an 'outy.' We have been assuming a hernia. "Well, yesterday someone from my online Crix group said something about their belly button doing the exact same thing. Could be a coincidence, but if anyone reading this has had a similar reaction, I'd like to hear about it. The other side effect I'm having is sore muscles, leg cramps, etc. that happen constantly.
"Anyway, as someone said, taking these drugs is like driving full speed down a highway at night with the lights off. I'm grateful that my life has been extended, but these are very powerful drugs and we don't know what they do to the "rest" of your body while they are fighting HIV."
Starring in the show (as they did at the Currican) are Stephen Bienskie, Dean Bradshaw (Hunting Humans), Amy Coleman, Grace Garland and Bob Stillman as Gideon. Brochu will direct the 47th Street staging, taking over for Mike Wills, who directed Session at the Currican. Additional lyrics for the show are by John Bettis, Marie Cain and Brochu, who is a theatre critic for the Glendale New Press and Leader newspapers.
Designing Session are Eric Lowell Renschler (set), Markas Henry (costumes), Mike Nolan (sound), and Michael Gottlieb (lighting). The show features arrangements by Michael Gaylord.
For tickets and information on The Last Session at the 47th Street Theatre (8th Ave). call (212) 239-6200.
--By David Lefkowitz