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In arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited on behalf of
Music Theatre International of New York


Sedos presents


My Favorite Year

 

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Mark Emmett (Benjy Stone)


(Based on the 1982 film)

Book by Joseph Dougherty


Music by Stephen Flaherty


Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens


Bridewell Theatre


4 – 14 June, 2008

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

In its original, 1992 Broadway incarnation, this musical garnered mixed reviews, though RCA deemed it worthy of a cast recording and three of its original stars, Tim Curry, Lanie Kazan, (who’d also performed her role in the 1982 film version) and Andrea Martin were nominated for Tony Awards, with the latter winning Best Actress in a Musical (as well as Drama Desk and Theatre World awards for Best musical Actress), with the show’s Arranger, Michael Starobin also winning a Drama Desk nomination for his contribution. Not a bad tally for a show which only ran for a total of 45 previews and 37 performances! In March 2007, the show’s writers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens announced that they were reworking the show in order to extract some of its darker aspects in favour of a lighter approach, surmising that it may have been their added emphasis on the pathos of the story that had sent their original musical version off on the wrong, unfavourably critiqued track.


Benjy Stone’s (whose character is loosely based on the young comedy writing Mel Brooks) ‘favorite year’ is 1954 – and we’re about to find out why. Benjy is the gofer and junior joke writer for the popular American, Sid Caesar like comedy variety TV show, King Kaiser. Television is in its infancy and as it’s live, all its miss-takes actually become takes. Benji’s childhood idol, Errol Flynn inspired booze and broad loving former Hollywood swashbuckler Alan Swann is next up as guest of the week on the show. As if that isn’t exciting enough, the crush Benjy has been harbouring for his co-worker, KC seems as though it might blossom. However, as he’s been appointed the grandly swan-diving Swann’s baby-sitter during his week in NYC, despite his attempts to keep his guest out of trouble and out of the newspapers, little does he realise that his whole word is about to go crazy!


In the opening scenes, Mark Emmett as Benjy Stone and Kirra Young as the object of his infatuation, KC Downing could do with a tad slower pacing in their delivery, however, as both performers relaxed into their roles in the course of this buoyant production and each has a lovely singing voice, these hiccups were quickly overlooked. The band, which adds necessary show biz sparkle, via their enthusiasm and expertise, might enhance their performance even more by turning down the volume at times, as their playing sometimes masks the dialogue and threatens to do the same with pivotal, ironic song lyrics.


Despite the show’s exceptionally large cast, there are some real sparklers here. Among the stars clustered  are, most notably, Craig Karpel as King Kaiser, Maria Waters as Belle May Steinburg Carroca and James Newall as Alan Swann. Not only is Karpel’s comedic timing razor sharp, but he makes King Kaiser believable, both as a bullying boss and the surprisingly vulnerable wind-bag beneath. Maria Waters also gives a very fine performance as Benjy’s live life to the hilt mother Belle May Steinburg Carroca. Waters’ vocal numbers are a joy to listen to, as well as watch, given her terrifically expressive singing voice and acting. As her husband Rookie Carroca, Peter Bryans manages to be very funny without going over the top, despite the fact that his every word inspires laughter. James Newall makes a suitably reckless, thoroughly debonair Alan Swann, which is no mean feat, as the 1982 film of My Favorite Year, on which the musical is based, featured the flamboyantly elegant Peter O’Toole in the role. Newall’s droll delivery on plum lines such as his description of a rather mouthy woman as ‘entirely uncontaminated by subtly’ are truly priceless. Scenes between Newall and his unwitting guinea pig/host, Benjy (Mark Emmett) are also a pleasure to behold, as are those of an enjoyably romantic angle between Emmett as Benjy with his dream-girl KC, (Kirra Young). Susan Booth plays Alice Miller, the lone female member of Kaiser’s writing crew, and the only one who stands up to him, with great intelligence, with and strength of character, making her Alice just as feisty and unflappable she should be.

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Craig Karpel (King Kaiser) and Susan Booth (Alice Miller)

Mickey Killianey plays Sy Benson, the senior writer with perpetual writer’s block, more like a caricature than a real character, but that’s possibly more down to Andrew Overin’s directional vision than his own. Benson’s a nervous type to be sure, but it’d have been great to see Killaney scratch a bit more deeply at the whys and wherefores of his character. James Franey is also comical as the ‘I’m not talking to him’ co-writer Herb Lee, who talks through Alice whenever he has something to say to Sy. The fact that Alice and these two fellows, along with Benjy are collectively meant to be writing jokes makes their off-beat scenario all the funnier.


Whatever the case may be, though, for the most part, this show is all in good fun! Given ecstatic individual and, sometimes, crowd reactions to individual lines of dialogue, specific scenes, and songs, as well as certain lyrics, I’m sure both Overin and Assistant Director Andrew McPherson would testify to that! Chole Faine’s costumes work a treat too, right down to the dancer’s satin sailor suits and the coffee-cup hats on the trio of ‘time out from our sponsers’ gals, singing about the merits of a cup a java. Brian Tucker’s inventive sets on a budget, largely consisting of a cardboard and plastic tubing ‘movie camera,’ and a few choice, vintage looking accoutrements, enabled illusions that we were only to willing to go along with. Speedy entrances and exits as would befit a television show set in NYC circa 1954 added to the swiftly changing cavalcade feeling of the production.

 

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Talented chorus of My Favorite Year


When it comes to songs, this show has several great numbers, looming large among them is ‘Larger than Life,’ as sung by Mark Emmett as Benjy, about his hero Alan Swann. ‘The Three Muskateers’, the Saturday night comedy variety show’s big number, was another that was especially well performed as it handily avoided being hammy, which it could have easily become. The numbers sung by James Newall as fading matinee idol Swann were also fantastic, and his ‘If the World Were Like the Movies’ aptly set the tone for what was to come in regard to his character. ‘Welcome to Brooklyn’ as sung and performed by Maria Waters as Benjy’s mother along with several other talented performers was memorable, as was that slightly more upbeat take on Fred and Ginger, ‘Shut Up  and Dance’, courtesy of KC (Kirra Downing) and Benjy (Mark Emmett) and the closing number, ‘My Favorite Year,’ as belted out by the entire cast.

 

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Mark Emmett (Benjy) and Kirra Downing (KC)


Good fun is what this musical abounds in, nicely balanced with the tinges of pathos the NY nineties critics so vigorously objected to when the show opened and subsequently, quickly closed thereafter. For my own part, and obviously, those of the Saturday night audience I was a part of, a vigorous round of applause is also due Matthew Gould for his stellar as Musical Director input as well as Choreographer Gayle Rogers, whose splashy ensemble numbers in particular, are out and out crowd-pleasers. Great use is made of any and all performance space, stage and floor down front included. It’s a pretty amazing experience, seeing such large scale numbers being staged in the Bridewell.  All of which leads me to believe a certain Mr. Billington was absolutely right in his recent assessment that musicals are often much more exciting when staged in small scale, fringe venues! The mixed levels of experience of the show’s performers also mirrored the show-girls (and boys) trouping along side of ‘stars’ aspect of vintage TV variety shows, giving it a real sense of drama, community style, with it’s show within a show.


This vibrant production of a seemingly misunderstood, (by NY ‘critics’) but nonetheless, notable musical would not only be considered a glowing, but, also, rather colossal achievement for any fringe theatre company, given its cast of twenty three and the challenges the ever so warm, but smallish, or should I say intimate, space of the Bridewell presents, and Sedos should be rightfully proud of themselves for pulling it off in such a highly professional fashion! My companion and I, and the similarly supportive, cheering audience enjoyed a great night out watching Sedos’ version of My Favourite Year, and if you go to see this funny, heartfelt, enormously entertaining show, I’m sure you will too!

 

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James Newall (Alan Swann), Maria Waters ( Belle May Steinburg Carroca) background


Bridewell Theatre
ST BRIDE FOUNDATION
Bride Lane Fleet Street
London EC4Y 8EQ

Wednesday - Saturday, 4 Jun - 7 Jun 2008
Tuesday - Saturday, 10 Jun - 14 Jun 2008
Performances at 7.30pm

Saturday 7 Jun 2008
Matinée 3pm

Tickets £15.00
Concessions £12.50

Book online or call 07806 438 264


http://www.stbridefoundation.org/bridewelltheatre/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

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