* Music and lyrics by Steve Schalchlin * Written and directed by Jim Brochu * 47th Street Theatre

The Last Session liberates yet another musical genre. It’s the gay equivalent of those tub-thumping gospel sitcoms that play the chitlin circuit. Gideon, a former white-gospel singer-songwriter who “crossed over” with a pop hit, is tired of living with AIDS. He’s decided to do the pill thing, as soon as he finishes recording his last CD. He summons to the studio three of his longtime backup singers, but an ambitious young answering-service operator named Buddy intercepts one of the messages and presents himself instead. Buddy is a devout Baptist who idolizes Gideon -- until he discovers he’s a fag who has AIDS. A music-industry wannabe in Los Angeles who’s shocked to encounter a gay man with AIDS? As his day-job training manual must have taught him to say: Hello?

But dramatic implausibility comes with the territory in this kind of show, as do stock characters played by terrific singers who wail each song at the top of their lungs. The most curious thing about The Last Session is that Schachlin’s autobiographical songs detail many familiar slices-of-life from the AIDS epidemic (getting test results, chasing down Chinese herbs recommended by “Somebody’s Friend”). Rather than eliciting empathy, however, this content is pumped into overwrought songs that aspire to be recorded by Michael Bolton. It’s an alienation effect that Brecht might have admired, though I doubt that was intentional. When Buddy talks Gideon out of suicide, you realize what the authors were shooting for: Rent meets Touched by an Angel.

The Advocate, unpublished

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