For Benjy Stone, 1954 was “My Favorite Year.” As he makes clear, “not the best year, but my favorite.”
For the 1992 Broadway musical of the same title, the distinction between best and interesting is important
The rousing, feel-good musical will be staged at Fort Lewis College this weekend and next with one matinée. The production is the result of a big collaboration between two FLC departments: music and drama. This substantial effort only comes around biannually. Two years ago, an energetic “Pirates of Penzance” took the stage. Tonight, FLC launches “My Favorite Year,” directed by the inimitable Theresa Carson with John O’Neal multitasking on drum set and conducting.
The winter-spring production has not flowered without obstacles.
“It was important to find a musical that was the right fit for our students,” said Theatre Department Chairwoman Ginny Davis. “Knowing we would be taking many students, 18 in all, to KCACTF (Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival – Los Angeles) in February, we decided to only produce one show in the spring. We wanted a show that had a good feel about it and many principal roles.”
The faculty-student selection committee first considered “Singing in the Rain,” Davis said, but complex technical logistics ruled it out.
“Once we read ‘My Favorite Year,’ however, we were sold,” she said. “It has a cast of thousands. It’s stylistically what we were looking for, and it is just plain fun. Audiences will have a great time with this American musical.”
Once the semester got underway, Carson said, external challenges loomed.
“Beyond our control,” she said. “Too many conferences, winter weather and a scheduled spring break one week before final rehearsals.
“But the students have really stepped up,” she said.
Since spring break, the 25-member cast, the 12-musician pit orchestra and the entire crew have been building a layer cake, polishing a 1992 musical based on a 1982 film, with a story set in 1954.
The movie came first. In 1982, screenwriters Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo contrived a comedy about an aging, alcoholic film star making a guest appearance on a popular TV show, something very like Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” In turn, the fictional Alan Swann was based on a flamboyant actor like Errol Flynn and portrayed by Peter O’Toole in the film. Caesar became King Kaiser, and his TV show morphed into “King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade.”
The hero of the movie and the 1992 Broadway musical which followed, is Benjy Stone, an aspiring comedy writer for King Kaiser. Stone’s childhood hero was Swann, and the young Mel Brooks character miraculously gets to write the sketch for his idol. Chaos follows.
“MFY,” as the show has been nicknamed by cast and crew, has too many performers to list here. It’s also an ensemble show with three times more people working behind the scenes. An official list of 20 songs includes ballads, vaudeville-sketch music, a little klezmer music and truly big, brassy Broadway show-stoppers.
As a bonus, the FLC production may spark a reflection on the difference between your best and your favorite year.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.