Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Story of My Life Could've Been So Much More

I am very bad about getting reviews out in a timely manner. And then by the time I get around to it, they are no longer relevant because most of what I would have said has already been said by people far more important than me. Story of my life…

Speaking of which – how’s this for a crappy segue? – I saw the modest tuner The Story of My Life two days before its recent Broadway opening. The premise, sentimental and schmaltzy, was right up my alley. I’m also a longtime fan of Malcolm Gets and a new fan of Will Chase (thanks to the Rent: Live on Broadway DVD). Throw Richard Maltby, Jr. in the director’s chair, and you have a show with a lot going for it.

So what is the premise?

Two friends make a deal as kids – he who survives will eulogize. Thomas Weaver (Chase), finds himself in the sad circumstance where he has outlived his lifelong friend, Alvin Kelby (Gets). In a series of flashbacks, he attempts to put together the pieces of the past by “writing what he knows” for his friend’s funeral.

Basically, if Sunday In The Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Groundhog Day and It’s A Wonderful Life all walked into a piano bar, The Story of My Life is what would walk out, drunk and sloppy, with nowhere to go…

While the show does have a few nice moments, it never really packs the punch I was hoping for. We don’t really understand the reasons the two characters make the choices they do – to stay behind or to move on, to wed or to not, to pursue a dream or to be happy with the cards you’re dealt. Perhaps if we understood that better we would care more at certain points in the play. The one memory that repeats and builds throughout the show ends in a big “So what?” I felt a little gypped.

The music and lyrics by Neil Bartram were nice enough but nothing I left the theatre humming. One of the first songs in the show, “Mrs. Remington”, is catchy and clever and it sort of set an expectation that was never really met again. Also worth a mention is “The Butterfly”, a tidy little story song that serves as the perfect opportunity to showcase Chase’s vocal agility. It is also a song that will likely be plumping the audition books of aspiring singers everywhere. The book, by Brian Hill, services the score nicely enough but it never really peels back the scab, which might help this show have a little more impact.

The fact remains that Gets and Chase are both talented performers and, while the story is bland, the two actors carrying the show are not. Gets is intense and affable as Alvin and Chase is charming and aloof as Thomas.

Robert Brill's simple monochromatic set, with stacks of books that fade into a white wall, is striking. It serves as the canvas for some cool lighting effects by designer Ken Billington but for some reason I thought it would go further or do more and it didn’t. And, pretty as it is, when you start seeing snow fall from the rafters 30 minutes into the show, it kind of ruins the moment when it snows at the end.

Overall, I was nonplussed. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. Even though I saw the show at a deeply discounted price, I still feel I should have been a little more satisfied my entertainment dollar investment. In actuality, I feel that that night, my money was better spent on the sushi dinner at Kodama.
UPDATE (02/21/2009):
After having had only 5 performances and 18 previews, The Story of My Life will close after its February 22nd matinee.

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