Jim Brochu calls it “the curse of the character person.”
In his musical memoir, “Character Man” — which Brochu brings to Rockland Community College on Sept. 13, a special event for Stony Point’s Penguin Rep — Brochu talks about a teacher of his.
“I say she was a great character woman named Kathleen Freeman. And I get no response,” Brochu said. “And I say ‘There you see the curse of the character people, that you never know their names. But, ladies and gentlemen, Kathleen Freeman.’ And her picture comes up and they all go, ‘Oh, my God! I love her!’”
You never go to the theater to see a character man, said Brochu, quoting the late, great George M. Cohan: “You go to see the player, not the play.”
“Nowadays, you have to be on television to be on Broadway,” said the Drama Desk award-winner for “Zero Hour,” about another larger-than-life character actor, Zero Mostel. “People don’t know what they like. They like what they know, so they’d love to see Jim Parsons on stage and all the television people.”
“You’re going to see Hugh Jackman, and not George S. Irving, who’s playing his father. But there would be no Hugh Jackman performance if it wasn’t for George Irving as his father. The character man or woman is the spine of every play.”
Brochu connects himself to some of the greats, painting himself as the carrier of the character man’s torch.
“I was lucky that I can tell stories about these people, stories I got firsthand, because I knew them.” he said. “Some of them I just worked with, but some became family and very close friends.”
While he recalls Katharine Hepburn’s admonition to him that “it is tacky to drop names,” Brochu picks up some dropped names, giving a glimpse of what theatergoers might hear at RCC on Sept. 13.
David “Davy” Burns, his mentor, was a Tony-winner as Mayor Shinn in “The Music Man” and Senex in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“He did 40 Broadway shows, but never got the recognition till he was the original Horace Vandergelder in ‘Hello, Dolly!’” Brochu said. “Everybody loved Davey Burns. It was very fitting that he was trying out a new Broadway musical, “70, Girls, 70,” with a score by Kander and Ebb and he had just gotten the biggest laugh of the night when he dropped dead of a heart attack on stage. He died hearing laughter and applause.”
Jack Gilford was a Tony-nominee as Herr Schultz in “Cabaret” and Hysterium in “Forum.”
“Jack had one of the greatest faces and was one of the sweetest men that ever lived. When I was doing ‘Character Man’ in New York, we had a talkback after a performance with me, Joey Gilford and Josh Mostel. It went on almost as long as the show. To hear the sons of these two guys who I talk about in the show talk about life at home and what it was like being the sons of character men was fascinating.”
Zero Mostel, the focus of “Zero Hour,” gets particular attention, with Brochu singing “If I Were a Rich Man,” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
And Barney Martin, who was the original “Mr. Cellophane” in “Chicago” gets his due.
“I was a dancing raisin with Barney in a 1971 commercial, which we show in the show,” Brochu said.
Don’t know Barney Martin by name? He played Jerry Seinfeld’s father, Morty, on “Seinfeld.”
Go ahead. Say it. Reverse the character man curse.
“Oh, my God! I love him!’”
Photo courtesy Jim Brochu: Jim Brochu stars in his one-man musical memoir, “Character Man,” with photos of his mentors, from left: Zero Mostel, Davy Burns (with Carol Channing in “Hello, Dolly!”) and Jack Gilford. “Character Man” comes to Rockland Community College on Sept. 13.
“Character Man,” 8 p.m., Sept. 13. SUNY Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Center, College Road, Suffern. $40, $35 for Penguin subscribers. Plus $1 service charge per ticket. Subscribe to three fall special Penguin events at RCC — “Character Man,” “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn” (Sept. 27), and singer Maureen McGovern’s new concert show “Sing, My Sisters, Sing” (Oct. 11) — for $90. 845-786-2873. The Penguin Rep website.