“The Story of My Life,” a touching two-character musical with music and lyrics by Brian Hill, gracefully tackles the issues of friendship and grief with a strong and steady undercurrent of humor.
Directed by Kathleen Kelso ’18 and performing in Braun Music Center’s Campbell Recital Hall through Sunday, this production traces the relationship of best friends Thomas Weaver (Ian Anstee ’18) and Alvin Kelby (John Ribeiro-Broomhead ‘17) from childhood. While it is clear from the initial scene that Thomas is recalling past memories in order to write Alvin’s eulogy – a dark and slightly disconcerting start to a musical – the production is full of life and energy as we watch Thomas and Alvin’s friendship unfold.
The intimate playing space of Campbell Recital Hall’s 215-seat performance hall augments the emotional pull of the story told in flashbacks by Thomas. While the set is sparsely decorated, consisting of a desk, bookcases and floor strewn with crumpled paper, it serves as a symbolic blank slate for the actors to recount their tales. Kelso’s direction is artful; she imaginatively plays with the space, having the actors make snow angels amongst the rubbish and transform Thomas’ rejected writing attempts into snowball fight ammunition.
The musical’s frivolity and candid emotion is clear throughout all of its musical numbers. The band, a trio, visible on stage right, gracefully guides the players along memory lane. From their first respective songs, “Write What You Know,” and “Mrs. Remington,” the vocal strength of both Anstee and Ribeiro-Broomhead is clear. While sentimentality can often be cloying, the musical, and the songs themselves, are infused with hilarious one-liners to the audience. Alvin recalls the “coarse black hair” of his first grade teacher’s beard and, later, responds that the women “look uncomfortable” when Thomas tries to get Alvin to take pleasure in a pornographic magazine.
Receiving mixed reviews after its Broadway run in 2009, what makes “The Story of My Life” a success here at Stanford is this production’s tender and intimate approach. Anstee and Ribeiro-Broomhead give honest, good-natured performances, evoking laughter from the audience throughout the production.
The musical seems to lose some of its momentum two thirds of the way though, which can be attributed both to the departure from its comedic nature and to the complexities of the characters themselves. When Thomas and Alvin are no longer lighthearted children but rather humorless and overworked adults, it is more of a stretch for the Stanford actors to convincingly embody these characters. However, this is not to say that all of the original vitality is lost. The final eulogy scene brings the musical full circle with the genuine eloquence of Thomas’ closing remarks at Alvin’s funeral, hinting at the self-realization which accompanies loss, leaving the audience feeling rewarded.
Contact Olivia at owitting ‘at’ stanford.edu.