Theater Review: Evolution Theatre’s Sweet and Charming ‘Story of My Life’
This past weekend, Evolution opened a lovely production of Neil Bartram (music and lyrics) and Brian Hill’s (book) Broadway musical The Story of My Life, directed by Mark Phillips Schwamberger.
This production finds Joe Bishara returning to the role he crafted for the regional premiere in 2012: Thomas Weaver, best-selling writer and escapee of the unnamed little town he grew up in. It also reunites him with longtime friend and collaborator, Matt Clemens, as Alvin Kelby, Weaver’s childhood best friend and the man he’s returned home with the uncomfortable writing assignment of eulogizing.
Early on, in one of the most infectious songs of the piece, Bishara – while trying to sift through moments in their lives together, and as they diverged – sings, “Those aren’t the story, they’re just facts.” The finest parts of The Story of My Life come as the character tries to tease out what incidents matter and what will communicate his love of this friend. Inevitably, that means coming to terms with the way Weaver, like most of us, let Kelby down when he was needed.
The book is a little thin, there isn’t quite enough tension, blunting the true pain of loss. But it’s a testament to this production that for most of its 90-minute run time, I didn’t notice. And I did notice those times my heart leapt into my throat.
The obvious affection and camaraderie between Bishara and Clemens give their characters a real, lived-in chemistry that recalls those early, forged-in-awkwardness friendships. And their voices blend beautifully on crystalline songs like the paean to reading and stories “The Greatest Gift” and a series of reprises of “Saying Goodbye.”
Schwamberger’s direction keeps the focus on these two characters and lets the relationship shine, without needing to add gimmicks or flash. The simple set, designed and constructed by Katherine Wexler and Michael Bynes around a series of projections (with David Crone as audio and video engineer), helps set the tone of the world.
The sparkling melodies of these songs are the shining jewel of The Story of My Life and not only do Bishara and Clemens knock them out of the park, but Jonathan Collura’s musical direction and leading of a sparkling trio from the piano, with Robin Coolidge on cello and Jeff Rolland on reeds, provides lush beds for the songs to really live, like everything else in this delicate, carefully-honed production, using minimal materials for maximum effect.
The Story of My Life runs through October 16 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more information, visit evolutiontheatre.org.