It’s all about the comb-over.
Brochu brings his one-man show, “Zero Hour,” to SUNY Rockland’s Cultural Arts Center in Suffern on Saturday for a sold-out, one-night-only performance to aid Stony Point’s Penguin Rep theater.
“When I am myself, I look nothing like him,” Brochu says. “In real life, I have a full head of hair and much sharper features. But something happens when I pull the comb over and darken my beard. He just seems to take over at that point.”
“Zero Hour” has taken over theater awards wherever it has gone, winning L.A.’s Ovations award, D.C.’s Helen Hayes award, South Florida’s Carbonell award and the 2010 Drama Desk Award as best solo performance.
“It’s really just been a dream come true,” Brochu says.
He met Mostel on May 11, 1962, when Brochu, in his military-school uniform, stepped onto the stage of the Alvin Theatre after one of the first previews of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“My mentor, David Burns, played Senex in ‘Forum’ and I was heading back stage to see Davey,” he recalls. “I would always sneak onto the stage. I always loved standing on the stage of a Broadway theater. I went out and — Bang! — ran right into Zero Mostel, who saw my uniform and said, ‘Who are you? General Nuisance?’
“I got to know him — I wouldn’t say very well — but he was certainly very gracious every time I would see him.”
Getting to know Mostel very well came later — long after the actor’s 1977 death.
In 2005 when Brochu was cleaning out his apartment he saw a Theater Arts magazine with Mostel on the cover, pointing straight out.
“I thought, ‘Maybe this is the time,’” Brochu says.
He began to research, to read everything he could about the lovable iconic comedian and actor who won Tonys as Pseudolus in “Forum,” as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” and as a transformative friend, John, in “Rhinoceros.”
Of course, he was also the original Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ 1968 film, “The Producers.”
But Mostel’s first love was painting, and Brochu sets “Zero Hour” in a painting studio, where Mostel is being interviewed by an unseen reporter.
The takeaway from that interview and the play, Brochu says, is: “He was a man who overcame many obstacles, personally and professionally, and he did it with style and humor and the full force of his crazy nature.”
Among those obstacles was the McCarthy Era blacklist, which derailed Mostel’s career for 10 years.
Later, Brochu says, Mostel worked on “Fiddler on the Roof,” with director Jerome Robbins, a man he despised because Robbins had named the names of Mostel’s friends to the House Unamerican Activities Committee.
“He had to work with the person he hated most to achieve his greatest success,” Brochu says.
While the blacklist forms what Brochu calls “the spine” of the play, there are still plenty of inside-theater stories and jokes to keep the audience laughing.
Playing the larger-than-life Mostel — whether on Saturday at RCC or at the Actors Temple, where it plays Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees through Oct. 10 — has brought Brochu acclaim and a great deal of satisfaction.
“It’s really nice to be able to bring Zero back to life like that,” he says.
And to think: All it takes is talent, hardwork — and a comb-over.
“Zero Hour,” Cultural Arts Center at SUNY Rockland Community College, 145 College Road, Suffern. 8 p.m., Sept. 25. $30, $25 for Penguin Rep subscribers. 845-786-2873. Go to the Penguin Rep website.
Photo by Stan Barouh: Jim Brochu plays comic great Zero Mostel in “Zero Hour,” the Off-Broadway hit that comes to SUNY Rockland for one night only, Sept. 25, presented by Penguin Rep.