Scott Miller and New Line Theatre are easing themselves into the Reduced Pandemic Era with a small, pleasant production of a small, pleasant musical, The Story of My Life, with two actors and an accompanist. And while the production is not elaborate, the usual suspects are putting it all together with their usual skill and taste: Rob Lippert designing the scenery, Kenneth Zinkl the lighting, Alison Helmer mastering the props, and the two actors designing their costumes.
The Story of My Life is actually the story of two lives. Alvin Kelby and Thomas Weaver became best friends in grade school. At one time in their youthful projections of their futures, they made the slightly macabre agreement that when one of them died, the other (obviously) would write an elegy for the deceased.
Alvin has died, and Thomas struggles to keep his promise and write his friend’s elegy. Though the adult Thomas has become a successful writer, he’s blocked trying to write this. So his late friend joins him to help. Or rather, Thomas’s memories of Alvin join him. As this story is being told as a play, the memories of Alvin take the form of an actor. As Alvin, Chris Kernan has lively conversations with Thomas. He reminds him of incidents from his books that are actually fictionalized versions of incidents from their lives. They make snow angels together. They share moments from their favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. When a bell rings, “an angel just got his wings.” One moment that almost happens in the movie, but doesn’t, does happen for them.
When Thomas goes off to college and Alvin stays at home to run his father’s bookstore, the daily contact ends but not the friendship. Alvin, as nicely played by Kernan, appears to miss it more. Jeffrey M. Wright’s Thomas is absorbed with classes, with a girl friend, with becoming a writer, with being a success. Director Scott Miller chose well when he cast Kernan and Wright. Both readily fit their characters and give added depth and reality to a script that can seem thin at times.
Miller is also the music director, and at the keyboard he’s the one-man New Line Pandemic Band. He’s accomplished at both.
Neil Bartram’s music and lyrics enrich the emotions in Brian Hill’s book for The Story of My Life. Though none of Bartram’s melodies wormed their way into my ears and stuck, they do supply a continuing, firm, and enjoyable structure for the musical.
This is not a major work. But it is skillfully shaped to tell the stories of two lives.
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg