The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, July 13, 2007, Arts

My Favorite Year

Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, through Aug. 11

Running Time: 2 hr, 20 min

You may have noticed that rain has had an impact on the Austin area lately. But the most amazing and most surprising thing about opening night of the 49th annual Zilker Summer Musical was that, despite three of the show's rehearsals – including the final dress rehearsal – being rained out this past week, the thorough drenching that the area has taken didn't really have much of an effect on the performance. With a cast of 28, an orchestra of 14, and no telling how many people behind the scenes, the show went on with barely a hitch.

For those unfamiliar with My Favorite Year, a musical adaptation of the nonmusical film starring Peter O'Toole, the story focuses on earnest freshman writer Benjy Stone, who has gone from slicing meat in the deli to writing for King Kaiser, a 1950s television star with his own live-comedy show. Even neater than that, romantic-film star Alan Swann, Benjy's idol, is slated to guest star on the king's show. When Swann turns up drunk, Benjy takes responsibility for caring for him, and he and Benjy form a bond. Subplots abound, including a romantic one for Benjy, a familial one for Swann, and a dangerous one for the king.

Now granted, the show experienced myriad technical problems over the course of the evening, yet not once did the show really hold still. The set changes were sometimes a bit slow, but given what was being moved – at a couple of points, an entire hotel suite at the Waldorf – they were always nicely handled. The actors' microphones frequently weren't in evidence when they first began to speak, but most of the time they came on immediately thereafter. And never did the show stop. Considering the all-volunteer nature of the summer musical, a group of professionals could not have done better. Credit goes to director Scott Schroeder and stage manager Susan Threadgill, and kudos to Colin Lowry, Justin Kirchhoff, and K. Eliot Haynes, whose video design, on both big and small screens, gave a Golden Era Hollywood glow to the entire evening, providing an emotional center that the show otherwise lacked.

Tough luck, that. Joseph Dougherty's book is a mishmash of clichéd characters and situations. If someone can find evidence that Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty wrote a memorable song for this show, please forward it to me. Even the ones that seemed good were really just sold well, particularly "Professional Showbizness Comedy," which Emily Bem, as feisty writer Alice Miller, stole right out from under everybody.

Weather does not hinder game performers, more than enough experienced voices and dancers, and an energetic crew. The real difficulty lies in getting out from under material like this. Sometimes – as in numbers like the truly magical "If the World Were Like the Movies" – the production transcends the material. And that's a very good thing.

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