Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Theatre review: The Story Of My Life

Home & rural

A MUSICAL WITH TOO MUCH CHARM? Brent Carver and Jeffrey Kuhn give spectacular performances in a musical play that pulls its punches. Credit: Shin Sugino photo

During the opening night performance of The Story Of My Life feedback from a speaker began to snap, crackle, pop in an extremely annoying fashion. Brent Carver stopped in mid-sentence, looked up and asked that the speaker be turned off, saying quietly, “We don’t need it.” Several seconds later — what seemed like an eternity — the problem was solved, the audience applauded and a truly anxious and spell-binding moment in the theatre ended. As for the rest of the show, it needed a great deal more snap, crackle, pop and a little less clichéd sentimentality in order to become much less charming and way more lethal. But the production does have Yuletide overtones, so if you love eggnog — without any rum — it might be to your taste.

A musical play about ordinary lives, and the ways in which those lives inspire great literature, runs the risk of becoming predictable
if the book and the score do not achieve a balance between the passion and commitment needed for modest living and the glitter and glory of big city success. Neil Bartram (music and lyrics) and Brian Hill (book) have created a charming musical play that needs a good shot of morphine to numb the potential tedium of the rural while pumping up the sparkling illusion of the urbane.

The gay subplot is so sub that it went almost entirely undetected until the “kiss” occurred and a few audience members gasped. A Playboy centrefold sequence lightly cues the audience, but provides more comic relief than any articulate examination of the life of a mild-mannered bookseller who stays in his hometown while his best friend climbs the ladder of literary success.

Developed in workshops at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, the CanStage premiere seems to have been built for a straight white clientele. In the hands of a director less concerned with subtlety and more adept at bringing gayness out of the closet and into the bookshop, the show could be crafted into something enlightening and faintly alternative. As it stands, The Story Of My Life, like all open secrets, flirts with an idea that never comes to fruition — we all know what could have been and lament what never was.

Carver and Jeffrey Kuhn give spectacular performances, complementing each other’s vocal expertise throughout an impressive score that falters only because of a lack of variation and one or two hard-hitting solos. Instead, heavy-handed narrative lyrics that insist upon telling — and retelling — the audience what they have already learned over the course of the first 40 minutes reduce what should have been a powerful denouement to an annoying recap of all that has gone before.

Set and costumes provide classic Christmas card sentimentality; the snowflakes are truly heartwarming. All that’s missing is Bing Crosby, Andy Williams and every other straight television variety show host from the past 50 years strolling onstage singing “White Christmas,” when what I would have preferred was a boozy ball-breaking rendition of “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus.”