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Paulanne Simmons

Jim Brochu salutes the "Character Man"

Jim Brochu in the solo show "Character Man" at the Metropolitan Room. Photo by Stephen Sorokoff.

“Character Man”
Directed by Robert Bartley
Metropolitan Room
34 West 22 Street
June 29, 2013
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons

At the beginning of Jim Brochu’s solo show “Character Man,” which premiered at the Metropolitan Room on June 29, Brochu tells the audience exactly what the title of his show means. A character man is a leading or supporting actor who specializes in portraying unique or peculiar people. He then names and shows projections of some famous character actors: David Burns, Jackie Gleason, Jack Gilford, Robert Preston, Zero Mostel, George S. Irving, Cyril Richard. Many of these men were friends and mentors.

What makes “Character Man” truly wonderful is that it is not merely the story of Brochu’s life and career, which begins when he is a boy growing up in Brooklyn, deeply influenced by a bon vivant father who he never realized was always drunk until he saw him sober. It is also a tribute to those men who make us laugh and cry in a very special way.

Most important of these character actors in Brochu’s life was his father’s friend David Burns, who won a Tony for playing Mayor Shinn in “Music Man,” although he never sang a note. It was Burns who got Brochu his first job - selling orange drinks in the St. James theatre. Fortunately, Burns became a lifelong mentor who introduced Brochu to theatrical giants and helped him gain entrance into The Players Club

The show celebrates all those character men. Brochu’s story is generously sprinkled with song introduced by his heros. Brochu sings “Ya Got Trouble” (Robert Preston), with the glorious help of the audience, “Miskeit” (Jack Gilford), “If I Were a Rich Man” (Zero Mostel) and “Who Can I Turn to” (Anthony Newley), to name a few of the songs that were blessed with Brochu’s tender, ironic treatment.

For those who enjoy behind-the-scenes dramas, there were also delicious tidbits, like the fact that Zero Mostel refused to speak to director Jerome Robbins on the set of “Fiddler on the Roof” because Robbins had given names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. And for those who prefer comedy, there was Brochu’s recounting of his backstage acquaintances, “Jewish Knights of the Round Table”; meeting Cyril Richard, who called him “Sir Jimmy the Juice Boy”; and playing a raisin in the famous Post Raisin Bran commercial.

Many of the songs in Character Man illustrate moments in Brochu’s life. “Cellophane Man” shows how he felt as a young man auditioning for roles he knew traditionally went to older actors, and of course, “Because I Knew You,” by Brochu’s friend Stephen Schwartz, was a very moving final song.


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