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A CurtainUp Review
The Story of My Life
By Elyse Sommer
Before you jump on me and accuse me of being a spoiler, consider this: The show begins with Will Chase entering the stage, heading straight for a speaker's lectern and launching into an attempt to put together a eulogy which is instantly identified as being for Alvin. In short the show revolves around a eulogy and Gets is playing a dead man. Any revelations and surprises must thus come not from who's dead but from finding out why Thomas, a successful writer is experiencing writer's block about finding the right words with which to lay his friend to rest. Oh, and if you're wondering how Malcolm Gets manages to keep this from being a solo, bear in mind that this is a work of imagination, which makes it okay for book writer Brian Hill conjure up the subject of the eulogy to help his old buddy get it right.
So, how does this musical rumination on a friendship that began when the men were six and that somehow ended before the Grim Reaper stepped in shape up? Chase and Gets are seasoned musical theater performers. Chase almost succeeded in keeping High Fidelity from heading to an early grave with a wealth of disarming charm and his excellent singing. I've seen Malcolm Gets deliver heaping servings of charisma and vocal pleasures to several small, low key musicals that deserved longer lives (e.g. A New Brain, Amour).
The two performers are an excellent fit. They sing their hearts out. Each creates a reasonably nuanced character and together they convey what forged the bond that held into adulthood but which ultimately and abruptly snapped (Quirky Alvin, deals with the death of his mother on his sixth birthday by wearing her robe at every opportunity; Thomas is a bookish writer-in-embryo drawn to the bookstore Alvin's father runs on a street quaintly named Writer's Block). Neil Bartram's music and lyrics and Brian Hill's book are well suited to these actors' talents. Lots of emotion. Plenty of dialogue that easily segues into songs. It all calls for adjectives like heartfelt and touching. Unfortunately equally apt adjectives are hokey, predictable and repetitive.
Bartram's songs are pleasant and melodic enough but many sound too much alike and overall they seem like yet another addition to the many derivative homages to Stephen Sondheim — some audience members might see blatant piggy-backing on specific Sondheim material. Hill's book leans too heavily on prescient references to Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Watching the movie is a Christmas ritual for the boys, as is making snow angels (shades of Capra's Clarence, the angel who keeps James Stewart's George Bailey from taking a header off a bridge). It should come as no surprise that the two men come off as two sides of the Stewart character: one gets away from life in the small town and lives a wonderful life; the other stays behind to take over his father's bookstore. Though not rescued from disaster by an angel, Alvin is himself the angel who rescues Thomas from an emotional block that dates back to a previous eulogy he was asked to give for Alvin's father (believe it or not, there are actually three eulogies in the course of this 90-minute show).
While Thomas can't or won't recognize that Alvin is his creative wellspring and that he needs Alvin even more than Alvin needs him, theater goers will see his self-awareness epiphany coming way before the climax. The only real surprise here is that the sexual undercurrent in the friendship is never more than vaguely hinted at, so that what drives this ghostly reunion/flashback and is the story's most interesting and least treacly aspect, is the issue of how a writers often appropriates other peoples' stories.
The staging is professional and quite Broadway-worthy. The all white, bare bones set by Robert Brill that greets you when you take your seat (a desk, a chair and a lectern) bursts to dramatic life when the curtain opens all the way to reveal projectionist Dustin O'Neill's wall of books and manuscripts. Director Richard Maltby, Jr. does his utmost to keep Chase and Gets moving around. The small, unseen band and Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations bring out the best in the music of a young musical team that knows how to touch your heart but must still find a way to do so without quite so many overly derivative and sugar-y ingredients.