A Christmas show that revolves around a eulogy may sound morbid, but considering that some of the most popular Christmas tales — “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to name two — have prominent death themes, it’s not that out there. And Delaware Theatre Company’s production of THE STORY OF MY LIFE is more of a tribute to friendship than a ghost story, set after a decidedly grim Christmas Eve. Like in “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a man is taken back in time to revisit moments that meant much more than he realized, but in this case, it’s focused on a single person: the best friend he ever had.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE is a musical with two actors — Ben Dibble as Thomas and Tony Award nominee Rob McClure as Alvin — and a six-piece orchestra conducted by Tom Fosnocht. Thomas and Alvin were inseparable, from the first time they met in Mrs. Remington’s elementary school class on Halloween. Thomas was a regular boy, smart and creative. Alvin, the son of the local bookstore owner, was a bit of a misfit, more interested in stories and wonder than the real world. As they grew up, they grew apart, as Thomas left for college and moved to the city to become a bestselling author. Alvin, much like “It’s a Wonderful Life’s” George Bailey, never left their hometown.
Neil Bartram’s musical numbers, coupled with the talents of Dibble and McClure, paint a childhood of exploring the bookstore, confronting bullies, and eventually, growing apart, with music and lyrics that grab you and stick in your head. We see very little of Thomas’s life — everything is seen through the lens of Alvin’s sense of wonder, his challenges and eccentricities. Songs like “Mrs. Remington” and “The Butterfly” are as funny as they are moving, defining the tone of the show. It’s light, at times. And it’s heartbreaking. As the show progresses, the pieces begin to fall together, and you see just how much impact every moment with Alvin affected Thomas’s successful life, even as Alvin sat alone in the bookstore that became his, alone.
It’s hard to imagine a better Thomas and Alvin than Dibble and McClure. Dibble in his suit and tie looks quintessentially grown up, but he displays a sense of being lost. Alvin is a bundle of energy, child-like in some ways even as a man, and McClure never misses a beat. The older they get, the more Alvin embarrasses Thomas, but when Alvin re-tells the stories of their childhood, Thomas laughs, genuinely, and through the performances you can see that these two friends made each other truly happy, and the sadness that would come could never change that.
Holiday shows can be silly or joyful or reverent, but none are quite like THE STORY OF MY LIFE.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE
Music and Lyrics by Neil Bartram
Book by Brian Hill
Directed by Bud Martin
Musical Direction by Tom Fosnocht
December 4-22, 2013
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801