CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It is rare that a musical can be simultaneously heartbreaking and amusing and do so in an entertaining and delightful manner. The Charleston Stage Company strikes the perfect balance of poignancy and lightheartedness with its presentation of "The Story of My Life."
With only two actors and a quartet of musicians, Brian Archer and Mark Felton take the audience through what can only be deemed an awkward love story -- of sorts. Oh, not the romantic kind, no, but the sweet innocence of childhood friends drawn together with nothing in common but imagination and time.
The story evolves and grows as they do; set against the backdrop of Tom's (Felton) subconscious we are treated to an exposé of their lives as he returns to their hometown to deliver his one-time best friend's eulogy. What should by all rights be a sad and introspective wistful journey down memory lane is instead a charming and amusing retelling of a joint coming of age.
As two 6-year-old boys bond over the shared horror of their first grade teacher's beard, the audience is both charmed and saddened as the early loss of Alvie's (Archer) mother is brought to light. Archer and Felton as two grown men channeling the character of their youthful selves should be off-putting, but instead it is both appealing and adorable. Through song and pantomime they reenact their childhood for the audience's perusal. At times they are both heartrending and hysterical.
Especially touching and sad, while still managing to incite giggles from the audience, was Alvie's song about his mother's memory. Touching as he explains, as only a child can, why he was loath to part with his dead mother's bathrobe he both amuses the audience while giving words and life to a concept that many feel and few can express. How, as the people we love pass off the scene, they become less real and more vignettes in our minds. It brought tears to my eyes.
A 90-minute musical is but a short time in which to tell a story but the cast of "The Story of My Life" told a multifaceted tale of young boys' struggle with growing up, of death and loss, of friendship and the things that strengthen it and the things that tear it down. They showed the struggle of an author suffering from writer's block and of the creative friend he left behind struggling to survive without smothering in a small town. It was wonderfully and artfully done.
There were some opening night bits and pieces that could be tweaked. At times the accompaniment, while magical, was overpowering. With only two cast members and no intermission it is not unbelievable that their voices became tired and were at times strained and hard to hear over the music. Since both actors were wearing microphones I would suggest the volume be turned up slightly. They were at times flat and a bit off the rhythm but instead of detracting from the musical this somehow added to the very humanness of it all.
The show was poignant and touching; it was funny and at times lighthearted but it was most certainly a brilliant examination of what makes a relationship and of how two people grow and nurture into each other, of how they grow apart and of how, ultimately, they are left with memories and of how those memories become a part of us and define who we are.
"The Story of My Life" runs today, Saturday, Dec. 15, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors.
Go see it. Take your best friend. Even if you have not spoken to them in years, you will not want to miss this show and you will not want to see it alone.