Volume 1 Book 9 Episode 3
of Living In The Bonus Round
the online diary of Steve Schalchlin
Life's a Beach (and then you open).
Episode 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

Bob Stillman

An Online Diary of the
1998 Laguna Playhouse Production

featuring Jim Brochu, Amy Coleman, P.M. Howard, Michele Mais, Bob Stillman, Joey Traywick, Positoids, NuBiHes and lavish amounts of love.

Part Three: The Rehearsals.

Laguna Beach.
Late August 1998.

Today, Wednesday, the skies around the rehearsal hall turned dark as a huge cloud of smoke began crawling across the sky. When the sun was able to shine through, the color was orange. As the smoke continued, we began to choke a little.

This was serious.

Soon we could feel the smoke and see it visibly nearer to the ground. And then, ashes began to drift down from the sky covering our cars. It was a brush fire less than a mile or two from the rehearsal hall and it was out of control.

Everyone got a little bit scared and wondered if we should abandon ship and make a run for it, but there were no real warnings so they decided to chance it and get on with the rehearsal.

Over the weekend, Jimmy finished the blocking and yesterday (after a Monday off) Joey showed up on time and with his full script memorized. He was so proud of himself after fumfering around -- especially since Maisey had her script memorized last week making Joey feel like terribly inadequate.

But he locked himself in his room on Tuesday and today he was brilliant and OFF BOOK.

Jimmy says he can't really do any work until the cast if off book and they begin running the scenes. His method is to let all the actors find their own "business" and "takes" on their respective characters, allowing them full freedom to experiment, ask questions and get a sense of the flow. After that, he begins giving suggestions and setting things. It's a very freeing and fun atmosphere and the actors really appreciate this freedom as professionals.



When you enter the cavernous rehearsal room, the first thing you see is Bob Stillman at the keyboard commanding the room. He's a superb musical director, teaching Maizey and Joey all the vocal parts with persistence, clarity and patience. Maizey, who does not read music, was particularly thankful, "He was so patient with me. I was scared trying to learn all this material."

We loved it when audience members in New York would come up to Bob and say, "It looked just like you were really playing that piano!"
Immediately behind Bob, P.M. Howard plays along on bass watching Stillman's left hand -- just quietly following along. Then, as soon as it's time for a run through, he turns up the volume and suddenly it would be like a whole new song.

Both P.M. and Barry Fasman have remarked about Bob's extraordinary musical abilities. He is a Princeton graduate and is probably as good a musician as I've ever met. Luckily, P.M. is also a great musician and they are enjoying each other immensely. As a musician myself, I totally understand how great that feels. My point is that they are bringing the music up to a whole new level.

But even if Bob couldn't play a single note, it would all be worth it just to be there to listen to him sing. Bob has one of the most magnificent vocal instruments on this planet and I am not exagerrating. His ability to slide effortlessly up to notes most sopranos would die for, is pretty much the eighth wonder of the world.

It's fun to play the cast album for new friends. They usually can't believe Stillman's voice. I'll never forget hearing it for the first time in New York. He came in three days before rehearsals were scheduled to begin -- he had been in Andrew Lloyd Webber's WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND which has just closed in DC -- sat at the piano and played "Dying to Live" by Edgar Winter -- I thought I was the only one who knew that song. (Edgar Winter is from the same area of Texas I'm from, along with Janis Joplin and his brother Johnny.)
I knew we were in for a completely new experience when they began working on "Preacher And the Nurse." Michele Mais (Maizey) is a consummate professional in rehearsal. She sat quietly making notes and during the singing, until she knew the song it she would sing softly and to herself.

Finally, though, it comes time to put it out there and give it a shot. P.M. cranked up his bass and -- out of NOWHERE! -- suddenly Maizey sprang into life and completely blew the roof off the building. Then she grabbed a tamborine and turned a glorious celebration into a national holiday. Joey described her voice as "like syrup."

The change we made in this song was to add electric guitar instead of acoustic. P.M. has a beautiful Chet Atkins Gretsch guitar and putting through a Roland Chorus amp, it adds more edge to "Somebody's Friend," matching Amy Coleman's glass shattering voice. This will be way more powerful than the New York version and there's nothing like Flamin' Amy Coleman unleashed.

More about Amy soon.

Bob and P.M. were having some trouble coordinating on this song. Mostly because Bob plays a very complicated left hand boogie which provides NO space for a bassline. (Bob is a one man orchestra). So, today (Wednesday) I was at the rehearsal hall do to an interview with the Orange County Register when he called me in.

"What was the piano part you played in NY for this song?" he asked.

So I showed him. It's a slicker more rockabilly approach. I play it in A, left hand holding down the bottom note as a pedal point while playing, alternately, the 5-6-7 using my index finger and playing a contra (on the upbeat) rhythm in the top hand. Simple.

Bob got it immediately and *POW* P.M. was able to lay in a sweet subtle bass line. And it was like the whole song just took off. Amazing. Also, Barry Fasman has added some humorous back up vocals for the girls off-stage during this number.

This is one song that doesn't need much so we've opted for P.M. back at the Gretsch playing some very sweet fingerpicking and then switching to some nice fuzzy bend notes like the ones on my Bonus Round CD. Again, it's really subtle but it elevates the atmosphere so nicely. Maisey then brings in a "Phil Specter" tamborine during the last verse hitting only on the 4.


On the personal front, I've been staying in our apartment as much as I can while swinging down to Laguna almost every day. I've suddenly become inspired regarding the new musical that's been birthing itself in my head. In a way, it's a continuation of TLS but I'm not writing a sequel.

I'll probably change the names but at least two of the characters from TLS will live on in this new work which will take place back in Texas and feature the character of Buddy who has returned to Texas, a defeated changed person.

Now, you might ask, "Where's Jimmy in all this?"

Well, after our personal difficulties last year, Jimmy vowed that we would never work together again. I laughed when he said this but he felt our working together was one of the reasons we split up last year (only to come back together).

I resist this notion since I think we're a extraordinary team...

Anyway, this past weekend as Amy Coleman, Jimmy and I were driving up to L.A. for their day off I explained the plot and the characters to Amy, who was LOVING every bit of it. The more I talked -- it has six characters -- the more excited she got (since "Vicki" is a big part of this) and I could hear Jimmy over there just absorbing it.

Then yesterday, the reporter from the Orange County Register was interviewing us and he asked, "So what's next for you guys?"

Jimmy looked over at me and said, "Well, we didn't have anything planned and I vowed we'd never work together again, but Steve is Tom Sawyer. He starts painting a fence and the next thing you know, everyone around him -- especially me -- has a brush..."

Why I'm sure I haven't a clue about what he's saying...

NEXT: Amy & the Designer Runthrough

Episode 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

The official stills by Still Productions | Pics by Steve | Cast pics by Steve | Fun pics
LA Times Review | TLS fan club page with pictures | L.A. critics quotes page
"From Hate To Humanity" | TLS Fan Chat Room | BennyTour fan pics

All photos and text are © 1998 by Steve Schalchlin.