Sunday April 23rd 2017

“The Story of My Life”

There is a new theatre company in town, Chicago Muse. Their slogan is “Don’t just see a show, see YOUR show!” What they do is seek new plays ( or in some cases, reworked new plays), get public opinion and typical Chicago audiences to select a play and then bring them to the stage, Here in Chicago. Their current production, “The Story of My Life”, making its Chicago Premiere on the stage of The Victory Gardens Theater is indeed not a brand new production. It is one of those rare shows that played New York first, but after being reworked and submitted for a new opportunity, the Chicago Muse people recognized the value of the play, a ninety minute musical with a book by Brian Hill and Music and Lyrics by Neil Bartram, for what it is- a gem! Yes, this is a warm and tender story about two “best friends” directed by Richard Maltby Jr. in a warm and intimate theater. Perhaps that was one of the “Big Apple” problems, there is nothing warm and intimate in that city, so doing a story that needs intimacy had to be hard to do.

“My Life” is a two character play that deals with the lives of  Alvin Kelby ( a delightful, playful character handled with just the right touch by Davis Duffield) and his best friend since the age of six, Thomas Weaver ( deftly handled by Jack Noseworthy). At the very start of the play which takes place on a stage filled with stacks and stacks of books ( great design by Robert Kovach), Thomas, now a famous author is preparing his eulogy for recently departed Alvin. He cannot seem to get it right and Alvin appears ( is it his spirit or his ghost?) to help him retrace their lives in order to do it right. As boys they spent a great deal of time together, lots at the book store that Alvin’s father owned, which became his after his father’s passing. During these ninety minutes of comedy and sadness ,as well as love and devotion between these two special friends, we learn a great deal. In particular, their Christmas Eves. They would make “snow-angels” and then come in to watch James Stewart as George in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, their favorite. Much mention is made of how this film changed their lives as did the books they were amongst almost all the time.

While Tom struggles with writing this farewell speech to his best friend, Alvin helps in recalling the life they shared. Alvin takes over the  book  store, never leaving town , keeping his father’s business running as it always did and Thomas becomes a famous writer. As we watch their stories  unfold, we find that  the thoughts that Thomas used to create his words and the ideas for the hundreds of stories in his head, were not altogether his, but “theirs”. This is a brilliantly done concert musical that fits into the holiday mood that Victory Gardens has been giving us every year. There are many Holiday plays in town ( in fact, some might say more than many) but this is something much more. It involves the holidays, but it is more about relationship and the special one that made these two boys, who become men, almost as one unit.

The music is not such that you will walk out humming. In fact, I doubt that you will recall any of  the words or lyrics, but you will recall the emotions and the feelings inspired. After the show, in speaking with some of the other audience members, I remarked how much of it reminded me of works by Sondheim. He of course has inspired many young writers of musicals. If so, Bartram truly gets it! ( and I applaud him for this). The musial direction is handled by Roberta Duchak who has the talent to get actors to feel the music as it was written and the three musicians who fill the theater with these  beautiful sounds are Valerie Maze ( conductor and piano), Rick Kissinger ( clarinet/oboe) and Jocelyn Davis-Beck(cello). This is ninety minutes of true magic as we watch the story unfold ( Maltby is indeed the magician) and although they do not list the prop person in the credits, whoever that be, they do one heck of a job. I guess credit should go to  Stage manager Kristi Martens for making sure that the thousands of books stacked on the stage only fall when they are supposed to. At the end of the play, the crew has a big job cleaning up the 8 minute mess created by these two actors. It, I am sure, is worth it ,as this is a sterling production that will allow you, the audience to feel all the emotions that you have.

“My Life” will continue at The Victory Gardens Theater located  on Lincoln Avenue at Fullerton through January 2nd, with performances as follows:

Wednesday,Thursday and Friday evenings at  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

SPECIALS: No Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years Day sows- a time to be with family and your best friend(s).

12/29   and 12/31

Tickets range from $46-$56 depending on week day or week-end and for a show of this quality, well worth the price.

The box office is open daily and you can call 773-871-3000 to order your tickets or visit www.victorygardens.org

To learn more about Chicago Muse, visit www.chicagomuse.com

Little contest:

Tell them about your best friend and win a weekend for two in Chicago

the story must start with this line “Let me tell you about my best friend…” and must include their first name. To learn more, visit their website.

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