Theater review: The Story of My Life

From the December 6, 2012 edition

During a season when treacly sentimentality often takes center stage and musicals grow bigger and more bombastic, CATCO presents a sweetly modest musical about two lifelong friends. With music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill, “The Story of My Life” traces the intertwined lives of two boys who meet in first grade and grow up together, the closest of friends.

At the age of six, the boys share a love of Frank Capra’s film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with its themes, imagery and quotations echoing through their relationship. Even as a youngster, Alvin Kelby (Jeff Horst) is considered an eccentric, a freak. “I prefer the term ‘individual,’” Alvin retorts. But in the process of urging Alvin to try to be more “normal,” Thomas Weaver (Joe Bishara) reveals his own independence in standing up for his friend.

As the boy who grows up to be a best selling author seemingly oblivious to the debt he owes to Alvin’s encouragement, Bishara blends the self-regard with humanity, so as not to lose all sympathy. As the boy who inherits his father’s bookstore and so, like Capra’s George Bailey, ties himself forever to his hometown, Horst is at his charming, childlike best.

Bartram’s lyrics are often clever and his music occasionally recalls Sondheim, though Hill’s play offers no great revelations or surprises. Still, “The Story of My Life” pays gentle, humble tribute to the powers of friendship, teachers, literature and individuality to shape lives. Good lessons for any season.