Review: My Favorite Year

Young and talented ensemble strut their stuff at Bathurst Street Theatre coming out party

by George Perry

My Favorite Year

My Favorite Year played at The Bathurst Street Theatre in Toronto July 27-31.  It is based on the 1982 American film of the same name, hence the spelling.  This production was performed by the August 2010 Graduating Class from the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts.

The story is based on the 1950’s Sid Caesar television program called Your Show of Shows. This was a popular American variety program.  Caesar’s young writers went on to fame.  They included Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon.  Six decades ago, they were a young, unknown team of talented writers.  Today, through courage, camaraderie and finely honed talent, they are legends.

This seems to largely be director David Connolly’s message for both his cast and crew and the audience.  Plant strong roots, remember them, and don’t be afraid to grow. 

Entering the theatre, audience members are treated to classic television clips.  The famous I Love Lucy scene for Vita-Vega-Vitamin seemed to put everyone at ease.  Lucy and Desi were groundbreakers, pioneers, not afraid to take risks.  This seems to be the spirit of The Randolph Academy. 

The lesson seems to have been taken to heart.  The 47 actors in this production exude passion.  During the musical numbers, the stage blossoms a garden in spring.  Although crowded, the singing and dancing is a refreshing spectacle.  With so much going on, one would expect something as garish as Yonge and Dundas Square.  Instead, this production reminds me of the old musicals that my grandmother would watch on her television.

The story is narrated by Benjy Stone.  Benjy is a young writer working on a television program.  It is his duty to keep his idol Alan Swann sober during Swann’s guest week on the show.  One of the troubling technical issues was that as narrator, Benjy was very difficult to hear.  Maybe it was our seats, or maybe it was a sound issue, but it really hampered our understanding and enjoyment of the play. 

On the other hand, use of the two-way video screen was highly effective.  We see Benjy and Swann have a conversation at the front of the stage.  At the same time, we see Benjy’s family eating dinner behind the screen.  Later in the scene we see Swann projected onto the screen, adding another layer of richness. 

We would have preferred that the Swann projection was taped rather than live.  The women operating the camera disrupted the onstage action, but perhaps this was done to add to the feel of a fifties television studio.

With all this going on, our favourite scene was when there were simply two women onstage.  One is trying to teach the other to tell a joke.  The scene works marvellously, with the lesson in joke telling fails miserably.  The play is based in New York City and has that same level of energy.  This scene is a nice break, like sipping a coffee in Bryant Park

The play seems to be set in 1950’s Brooklyn, and there is a preoccupation with big old American musicals and icons.  It is kind of Cyndi Lauperish without the irony.

The Bathurst Street Theatre was first built in 1866 as a Methodist Church, in what was then not even a part of Toronto.  Who knows if these talented young adults will have the same longevity of this storied building, or even Lucille Ball or Sid Caesar?  They are however, off to a splendid start.

It’s reassuring seeing these sorts of productions.  It’s reassuring to see schools like The Randolph Academy.  One has to admire their raw talent, their conviction and how they seize the day.  The Kids Are Alright!