Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Story of My Life
Also see Richard's review of Jersey Boys
The 90-minute show by Brian Hill, with clever words and music by Neil Bartram, is short on overhead (just two actors and Mr. Miller himself as pianist, plus barely a half-dozen designers) but long on life, with engrossing, storytelling songs. It flopped on Broadway in 2006, with 18 previews and five performances, but does very nicely in the intimate confines of The Marcelle. Eternal leading man Jeffrey M. Wright plays budding author Tom, and Metro-East standout Chris Kernan is bookstore owner Alvin.
Mr. Miller, as the one man band, adds the occasional dissonant chord when friendship isn't enough for two grown men, especially when they appear to be of differing sexual orientations. Tom and Alvin are boyhood friends whose paths diverge, leading to heartbreak and a kind of rebirth. It may not be Head Over Heels or Urinetown (the two big, glitzy shows that will round-out this 30th New Line season), but, after theater's 18-month coma, it's probably a good idea to avoid any heavy lifting right off the bat. Across town, Stray Dog Theatre got back to business two months earlier, with a three-man Art; and Stages St. Louis revived the two-woman Always ... Patsy Cline. But both of those companies had children's extracurricular programs, which (Stray Dog's Gary F. Bell says) helped to keep them afloat during the deadly viral outbreak.
Missing from The Story of My Life is recent co-director Michael Dowdy-Windsor, who brought a lot of welcome humor to The Marcelle in the last couple of years. Fortunately, this show's co-star, Mr. Kernan, fills the ebullience-gap left by Mr. Dowdy-Windsor with charm to spare. It's a lucky show in other ways. Even the two actors' contrasting singing styles help define their characters: Mr. Wright, who has certainly sung in more musicals than I've ever seen, has a warm, perfectly trained sound, while Mr. Kernan seems magically light and natural. So it is with Tom and Alvin, one hammering away to perfect a long list of short stories, and the other just living every moment with a childlike sense of wonder.
It's Mr. Kernan's show as Alvin, the gleeful inspiration for all of Tom's stories. And composer Neil Bartram keeps the mood playful between the usual dark and painful memories of growing up. But Mr. Wright's performance, as Tom, suggests a psychological counter-melody: does one simply neglect a relationship to death; or (on some level) has he methodically set about to kill it? The question of abandonment looms larger, though the question of who's to blame remains tantalizingly in doubt.
The Story of My Life runs through October 23, 2021, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel T. Shepard Dr., (three blocks east of Grand Blvd., at North Leonard Ave.), St. Louis MO. There's a lighted, fenced parking lot across the street. For more information visit www.newlinetheatre.com.
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The Production Staff: