Off-Broadway's The Last Session is offering an unusual promotion, occuring Dec. 19 at noon. The cast will give a free concert atop a flatbed truck on "Military Island" (the 43rd St./Times Square army recruiting island) in midtown Manhattan. Crowds will then be given vouchers for a free original cast CD of the show with the purchase of a full-price ticket to the production, now at the 47th Street Theatre.
A choir will back up the cast-members' finale, "When You Care." Melba Moore is expected to be on-hand, as are ensemble cast-members from Rent, Triumph Of Love, Titanic, Smokey Joe's Cafe, Capeman, Miss Saigon, Grease!, Side Show and Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back.
Dec. 12 marked the release date for the original cast recording of The Last Session, a musical about a young musician with AIDS that started out as a sleeper Off-Off Broadway and has proven its mettle in a transfer to a larger house.
Songs from The Last Session include "Somebody's Friend," "Connected,""Going It Alone," "At Least I Know What's Killing Me" and "Friendly Fire." Not only with the album feature the above tunes, but there's a bonus track of the cast singing the show's "When You Care," backed by the L.A.-based Friendship Choir.
You can listen to 30-second clips from the cast CD by downloading them, free, from Playbill On-Line's audio clips archive. The Last Session was first performed last May at NY's Currican Theatre and then transferred to the 47th Street theatre in October for a commercial run. The show's producers are Carl D. White & Jamie Cesa with Michael Alden & Jay Cardwell, and Kim & Ronda Espy/Bob-A-Lew Music.
The musical, with music by Steve Schalchlin and a book by Jim Brochu, is based on Schalchlin's real-life battle with AIDS -- one that 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, a fundamentalist Christian, enters the session, the two worlds collide.
Not only is Schalchin's health progress something of a miraculous success story, he's become 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).
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 becoming 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 has directed 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 eewspapers.
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 to The Last Session at the 47th Street Theatre (8th Ave.), call (212) 239-6200.
-- By David Lefkowitz