Theater Review - Character Man (NY)

If you have not heard of Jim Brochu, and you love show biz, you must get to see “Character Man!” It is playing in a tiny theater on West 30th Street only until March 30!  Some of my audience may remember me reviewing his one-man show, “Zero,” in which he portrayed Zero Mostel and the many facets of the life of this great actor, who suffered through the blacklisting era.  Brochu, a big man, looked just like Mostel and the show was fascinating. 

 

Now, in “Character Man,” which Brochu also wrote, he is playing himself. His white hair neatly combed, dressed in grey slacks, a navy blazer, red tie and pocket handkerchief to match, he doesn't look anything like Zero Mostel. For one and one half hours without intermission, directed by Robert Bartley, accompanied by an excellent pianist, Carl Haan, he sings the songs of Broadway and tells the stories of many character actors, but most particularly his dad's best friend, David Burns. Burns, a Tony award winner for Best Featured Actor in “Music Man” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” was Brochu's mentor. Among his many roles, Burns originated the part of Horace Vendergelder in “Hello Dolly” with Carol Channing, worked with Jackie Gleason, and won kudos for his extraordinary performance in Arthur Miller's “The Price.” He died of a heart attack on stage in Philadelphia on March 12, 1971. (We saw this play on that anniversary, March 12: an emotional time.)

 

Burns was a kind man and arranged for Jim Brochu, when he was only 15, to sell orange soda at the Alvin Theatre where “Forum” had opened. This was the beginning of his love affair with theater. He could watch the show, and hang out in Burns' dressing room afterward meeting and listening to actors like Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford and John Carradine.  What a thrill!

 

The most interesting aspect of “Character Man” is Jim Brochu's description of his father and their relationship. Brochu's mother died from a heart condition when he was very young. His handsome, charming dad raised him; although he was a raging alcoholic, especially on Friday nights, Brochu faces this with love, without bitterness, as some might. Amazingly, his dad dated Joan Crawford for several years!

 

“Character Man” is a tribute to Jim Brochu's dad and his best friend, David Burns, and to show business at its best done with humor and love.       

      

P. S. Three family plays at Urban Stages: For ages 6 to 12 Sunday March 23,” Lucy's Question” and March 30 “The Last Pine Tree on Eagle Mountain.” Phone 212-421-1380 or rsullivan@urbanstages.org.

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