Ambiguously Gay Duo
Thanks to a post-holiday slump amplified by our nation’s current economic crisis, more than a dozen Broadway shows closed in January, darkening almost half the marquees on the Great White Way. Like Hairspray, long-running, big-budget, full-chorus spectaculars such as Grease, Gypsy, Young Frankenstein, Spamalot, and Spring Awakening proved that you could, in fact, stop the beat. But now, opening February 19 at the intimate Booth Theatre, the first official new Broadway musical of 2009 will be — wait for it — The Story of My Life, a 90-minute, single-set, two-person show about friendship, by life partners Neil Bartram and Brian Hill. So can a pair of relatively unknown, 40-something gay guys from Toronto revive American theater? They’re sure as heck going to try.
The Story of My Life, which was presented last year by Connecticut’s Goodspeed Musicals, is the story of a successful writer who returns to his hometown to deliver the eulogy for his best friend of 30 years. In examining their colorful history and eventual estrangement, the perpetual power of friendship is exalted.
“It’s not a big show with a big cast and lots of flashy sets,” says Bartram, who composed the music and lyrics, “but it’s a story that anyone can connect with. It’s accessible, genuine, and heartfelt.”
While it may celebrate BFFs, the show is no Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 3. Directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. (a Tony-winner for Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Fosse), The Story of My Life stars Broadway favorite Will Chase (Rent, Aida, The Full Monty) and out Tony-nominee Malcolm Gets (Adam & Steve, Caroline in the City, and the upcoming Grey Gardens) as the besties in question.
“There are more barriers and complications between male friends than there are between female friends, which added more conflict to the story,” says bookwriter Hill. “Men tend to be more guarded with their feelings.”
Bartram and Hill, who met as actors in the original Canadian production of Forever Plaid in 1993, consider themselves best friends in addition to partners. Could there be a similar romantic connection between the characters they’ve created, or is it just Broadway’s biggest bromance?
“It’s definitely a love story,” admits Bartram. “These two guys are soul mates, people who couldn’t be who they are without each other. We wanted to make it as simple and as strong as that without it becoming a typical love story.”
“We’ve specifically written a piece that’s full of ambiguity,” adds Hill, “so it’s up to the audience to decide. We want to raise questions like, 'What was the level of this relationship?' We’re finding that people come away from the piece with vastly different opinions, which we find thrilling. We’ve had people say, ‘That character’s absolutely gay and in love with that character.’ Other people say, ‘No, that’s not what the relationship was about at all!’”
But if anyone’s likely to question the characters’ sexuality in The Story of My Life, both writers suspect it will be gay theatergoers. “Because the story’s ambiguous, people tend to apply their own stories to it,” Bartram explains. “That helps it connect to all kinds of individuals.”
While skeptics may wonder how the little-show-that-could will stack up against splashier upcoming Broadway saviors like 9 to 5 and revivals of West Side Story and Guys and Dolls, the creators of The Story of My Life think the temperature of their musical perfectly suits our nation’s current sociopolitical climate.
“The presidential election was the first real sign that people feel that something has to change,” says Bartram. “If there’s any synchronicity here, it’s that we’ve landed on Broadway in a time when people are looking for something different. This show definitely fits the bill.”