Friendships, really enduring friendships, are not always easy to sustain in modern America. There are just too many pressures and distractions: family demands, divergent career paths, and the necessity, for a variety of reasons, to move, from time to time with the result being that people, even close friends, slowly drift apart. This then makes it an appropriate social phenomenon for exploration and then to reflect upon it musically.
“The Story of My Life”, with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and a libretto by Brian Hill, offers a peek into one such modern relationship. Creatively and tenderly directed by CV REP artistic director Ron Celona, along with musical direction by talented Scott Storr, the show becomes a poignant and very affecting 90-minute musical production. It’s a wonderful Holiday and Christmas gift to audiences of CV REP and the entire Coachella Valley.
The story of Thomas Weaver (Craig McEldowney) and Alvin Kelby (Chris Daniel) is a universal tale of friendship told in words and music. They have been friends since both were six years old. As the lights come up, Thomas enters, looks around surveying his boyhood surroundings. As a successful novelist and writer, he has returned to his boyhood home to deliver Alvin’s eulogy. There is, however, one small item that requires his attention. He hasn’t written it yet. He’s having a severe case of writer’s block and personal guilt.
Over the years Thomas sorted of drifted away from Alvin partly due to his work, his family life, and his success as a writer. He left home to attend college and later married a girl from his college days and they raised a family. In order for the story to unfold Thomas requires the on stage presence of Alvin to assist him in retrieving all of their detail-rich experiences, hopes and dreams; which is so necessary for his eulogy of his friend.
Alvin, on the other hand, never went to college. Instead he stayed home to work in the family business – a bookstore named “the writers block”. Following his father’s death, he became the owner of the business. He never married but always corresponded with Thomas through yearly Christmas cards. The story is typical and so prevalent during the 20th century: birth, life and death, with rest stops along the way and the time to share life’s experiences with friends in our search for a piece of the “American Dream”. Not all followed the same path, however, Alvin being one of millions who marched to a different drumbeat.
The musical-staging leitmotif employed by director Celona, that of alternating between the past and the present in the telling of the story, is reminiscent in style, substance, and structure, of Jason Robert Brown’s poignant two-hander “The Last Five Years” – another winning Broadway and Regional theatre production of a several seasons back.
The on stage chemistry between McEldowney and Daniel as actors, along with the insightful lyrics and music of Neil Bartram is what makes this production so winning. Each actor possesses a strong singing voice. Together, they complement one another’s voice in the harmony moments and there is a genuine respect for each other’s skills and talent as actors.
Set Designer Jimmy Cuomo provides the intimate 88-seat Rancho Mirage venue with a dazzling monochromatic, minimalistic-style unit set that allows ample space for the actors to create and perform their magic. Stuart A. Fabel’s lighting design gives the audience the opportunity to see the costumes designed by Aalsa Lee. Musical Director Scott Storr attacks the musical score both with precision and a gentle touch. Storr is accompanied byTiffany Christensen on Cello, and James Nation on percussion.
This is the first musical to be produced by CV REP. A.D. Celona, sort of stuck his neck out a little bit by selecting a musical as the second production to produce in its 2013- 2014 season. This small, thoughtful, and compelling show about love, friendship and life, convincingly validates his selection.
“The Story of My Life” runs through December 22, 2013. For tickets and reservations call 760-296- 2966.