The Story of My Life

We never stop discovering hidden treasures in The Story of My Life, the Broadway musical that New Line opens in a couple weeks at the Marcelle Theater in Grand Center. We ran the whole show for the first time last night, and for the first time on the set, and it went really well! Putting all the pieces together, even in a slightly rough form, reveals so much about this wonderful, intricately constructed, richly detailed musical!

We originally (and over-optimistically) planned to do Something Rotten this fall, but the pandemic scuttled those plans. Then we decided to do Songs for a New World in that slot; but alas, that was not to be either, owing largely to pandemic fears. So we finally settled on a musical that has been on my To-Do list for about ten years, Neil Bartram and Brian Hill's The Story of My Life. Just two actors, and for our production, just one musician (me) on keyboard. It's weirdly perfect for this moment -- so physically minimalist and yet so incredibly emotional and complex.

Artists and scholars often have trouble defining the "concept musical." The definition I've settled on, after all these years, is that a concept musical is a show in which the central metaphor or storytelling form (the concept) is more important, or at least as important, as the content of the narrative. So, obvious examples include Cabaret, Hair, Company, Godspell, Pippin, Follies, Pacific Overtures, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park with George, Assassins, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Urinetown, A New Brain, and more recently, Spelling Bee, The Bomb-itty of Errors, Head Over Heels, Bukowsical, Jerry Springer the Opera, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, [title of show], The Great Comet, Hadestown, The Scottsboro Boys, A Strange Loop, Hamilton, and so many more.

...and The Story of My Life, a musical which operates entirely inside the mind of one character, Tom, and pieces together its narrative details like a jigsaw puzzle, not like a straight, linear story. Because of that, time and place are really fluid here. Not only does our story refuse to unfold in chronological order, we also revisit certain key moments over and over, each time learning a little more, putting another puzzle piece in place. Because we're in Tom's mind.

In sitting down to write this eulogy, Tom goes in search of his best friend Alvin and finds himself instead, and the whole journey takes place inside Tom's head, which is a very messy, conflicted head. Which means everything is subjective and jumbled together. Which means everything is gray area. Which is the best kind of theatre because that's life, as Tom says in the show.

That little revelation, when Tom says "It's life," is one of dozens of little moments in the show that pass by quickly, but resonate and become more meaningful as the full puzzle becomes clearer.

One fun detail -- of many -- in this show: Alvin's father owns a used bookstore called The Writer's Block, so named because it takes up an entire small city block. That bookstore and its contents figures prominently in our story, almost as another character, and so does its name. Tom is trying to write Alvin's eulogy, trying to "find" Alvin, trying to understand what happened between them, but he's stuck. And we're inside his head. We are literally inside of writer's block for the duration of the show -- and in certain scenes, we are also physically inside the store, The Writer's Block.

Such a cool show! One of those quirky but amazing musicals I often find and am thrilled to share with my friends and our audiences!

We had cast Chris Kernan as the lead in Something Rotten way back when; then we cast him as the baritone in Songs for a New World late this summer; and now he's playing Alvin. Chris is awesome. And he's in Head Over Heels in March, and he'll be choreographing Urinetown for us next June.

When I first listened to the cast album for this show a decade ago, I immediately thought Jeff Wright should play Tom. He seemed perfect for it. But then the show got put aside in favor of bigger shows. Then, ten years later, when I was casting The Story of My Life a few weeks ago, I was having trouble with Tom, and my bestie, longtime New Liner Alison Helmer said, "Have you asked Jeff Wright?" I hadn't asked Jeff, because he hadn't worked with us in a few seasons, and so he didn't immediately come to mind. But when Alison mentioned him, I remembered my first impressions of the show. Luckily, Jeff had no other projects in the way, so he joined us too.

It's been so fun and so easy working with these two guys. They're both really nice and have amazing instincts, rehearsals with them have been so easy, and they're both utterly ideal for these roles.

And BTW, this is the first time I've played rehearsals since 2016, and the first time I've played the show performances since 2002! And after a year and a half of not playing piano very much, I actually strained muscles in my right arm the first couple weeks by jumping too enthusiastically into this wonderful but very athletic score. So now I feel like a minor league pitcher, needing to ice his arm after a game. On the other hand (pun intended), I love playing this score!

For realz though, I am not the smartass kid I was when I started New Line thirty seasons ago. Now I'm just an aging smartass with a sore arm.

I am genuinely optimistic that people are going to fall in love with this odd little show exactly like they fell in love with Hands on a Hardbody seven (!) years ago. And they're going to fall in love with these characters and these two actors. We're gonna hear that frequent New Line refrain from our audiences, "I had no idea what to expect, but it was wonderful!" 

The Story of My Life is such a great way to restart after our pandemic hiatus, a very small show, with a very small cast, a very minimalist set, and a gigantic, deeply human heart. Come join us!

Long Live the Musical!

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