by STEPHANIE KWONG
Let me start off by stating that last night was my first time at the Illusion Theater. The Illusion Theater is quite nice and is a great place to see a show. Located in the Hennepin Center for the Arts, adjacent to the new Cowles Center, the building is historic and grand on the outside, and renovated and modern on the inside. The theater itself is small and intimate, yet comfortable. Every seat in the house is a good one.
Now on to the show: The Story of My Life is a tale of two childhood friends and how their relationship profoundly defined their lives. Thomas Weaver (Steven Meerdink) is a best-selling, award-winning author. Alvin Kelby (Kevin Hansen) was his best friend for thirty years. But time can test the bonds of friendship, and when it does, Thomas calls on the only resource he has – his memories of Alvin – to learn where things went wrong.
There is certainly nothing to criticize with regard to the acting. As a two-man show with no intermission, the actors never get to leave the stage for the full 90-minute run. They carry the show with gusto. Both Meerdink and Hansen – also co-founders of the Minneapolis Musical Theatre – really committed to their roles and, from the second row, I could only believe that they were their characters. Bravo from that standpoint!
Although this show is technically a musical, I felt that it more largely resembles a play set to music. Maybe that’s because of the small cast, but it lacks something that I’ve come to expect when I think of a musical. The music has a decent melody and cadence to it, but isn’t particularly memorable or inspired. It’s just not the sort of musical I’m used to. The cast members have fantastic voices, and I often felt that their talents were restrained by the music. I kept waiting for them to have a breakout moment to just belt one out and do some vocal acrobatics. It wasn’t until half way through the show, during “The Butterfly” that I finally got a taste of what I was looking for. There was only one other song, “Independence Day,” when I felt that they had another opportunity to shine, but I wish there were more. I typically leave a musical humming at least one melody that will not escape my head. This isn’t that type of musical.
When entering the theater, the first thing you notice is Darren Hensel‘s set design. The set is full of bookshelves, a desk, a window and some stairs made out of over-sized books. Everything is completely white. As I examined the set, attempting to find clues with respect to what the show would be like, I was reminded of something you might see at the Walker Art Center. With everything white and blank, there are so many ways that you can interpret an intended meaning. As the show progressed, various meanings and significance became clear to me. The set, along with Grant Merges‘s lighting design, seemed very versatile and smart, and I was impressed at the artistic function of this design.
The plot of the musical is a romance of sorts, even if advertised as a friendship. I frequently felt that I was witnessing a love story, with all the usual ups and downs. But especially in the age of the Apatow-ian “bromance,” it probably wouldn’t be inappropriate to compare most great friendships to a love story, regardless of gender. In this particular case, however, I felt that the deep, emotional connection shared between the characters would be more typical amongst female friends instead of male friends. But in the end, it doesn’t matter whether you label it a love story or friend story, because The Story of My Life is really just a good story about life, death and the things we do in between.
Stephanie Kwong is the author of phenoMNal twin cities: your budget-oriented guide to getting the most out of living in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill. Presented by Minneapolis Musical Theatre, March 9-25, 2012, at the Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403. Tickets: $25-$30 by calling 612-339-4944 or at www.aboutmmt.org.