What Inspired The Story of My Life

By Doug Sturdivant
09 Feb 2009

<I>The Story of My Life</I>'s Malcolm Gets and Will Chase
The Story of My Life's Malcolm Gets and Will Chase
Photo by Aaron Epstein

The spirit of a classic film informs the new musical The Story of My Life, a universal tale about true friendship.


Two songs into The Story of My Life, the new musical opening at Broadway's Booth Theatre this month, out pops an enduring movie-made icon: Clarence, the affable and literally unflappable angel apprentice who earned his wings by bailing George Bailey out of a futility funk in Frank Capra's Christmas classic of 1946, "It's a Wonderful Life."

The song is "Mrs. Remington," a paean to a warm, nurturing first-grade school teacher, and Clarence was a favorite with the recently deceased mom of Alvin, one of her six-year-old charges. Truth to tell, Neil Bartram was writing about his fifth-grade teacher, "a large, embracing woman," recalls the tunesmith, "just the energy you'd want in a classroom. She treated the kids like her own. At that point, she was, like, my world."

There are, he says, other echoes of "It's a Wonderful Life" in his songs and Brian Hill's book for The Story of My Life. "It has some parallels to our story about a character who saves this whole town, much like George Bailey does. Our two lead characters bond over their love of that movie, and the point's made that each would've had quite different lives without the other."

This Story is set in small-town America (called in its first draft Angel Falls, which presumably would have been just down the road from Bedford Falls), and it spans almost three decades of a friendship that began on the first day of school. "It's one character looking back on the profound effect his friend had on his life," says Hill.

From the same starting point — best friends — Thomas Weaver (Will Chase) troops off to the big city to become a best-selling author, and quirky Alvin Kelby (Malcolm Gets) remains in town to run his father's bookstore, but through the years their level of reentry remains intimate and familial. There's only the catch-up to do.

"There are relationships in your life that influence you without you really noticing it at the time, but, in retrospect, you can see how a certain person changed the course of your life," points out Bartram, who set sail with Hill on that notion with a man–woman friendship and wound up scuttled by the "When Harry Met Sally" undertow.

"We kept migrating into a love story," Hill notes. "In changing it to two men, there were suddenly more boundaries to break through. It made a more interesting play."


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