first night

My Favorite Year

Jack Moreton reviews Trevelyan College's musical 'My Favorite Year'


The director of TCMS’s latest offering, My Favorite Year, opens her programme note likening the experience to “putting on a show and making the best of what you have”. Perhaps this is appropriate when you realise that all involved are Trevs students, but it far undersells the hard work and talent displayed both on stage and in the pit.


Based on the 1982 comedy film of the same title, My Favorite Year recounts a memorable summer in the life of Benjy Stone, a junior comedy writer for the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade. When his childhood hero (and now inebriate), movie star Alan Swann, is booked as the show’s guest, Benjy is charged with keeping Swann on task and, harder still, sober. Along the way, he learns a few life lessons, thwarts his oppressors, and pursues a girl.


It seems an obscure choice for a society that has recently produced better known works such as: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie Get Your Gun and Anything Goes; whilst refreshingly unfamiliar, audience members with no prior knowledge of the show may have struggled to follow the plot line, which was at times hampered by problems with mic levels and poor diction.


That being said, the cast carried the storyline well and sustained a high level of energy once they got into their stride. Though perhaps unambitious, Olivia Dixon’s choreography was at its most effective when using the full chorus in numbers such as “Manhattan”. I was particularly impressed by the well-executed and elegant lifts. However, the real strength of the chorus lay in their vocals; at their best they produced rich and full harmonies, which were evident in “The Gospel According to King” and “Manhattan”. Unfortunately the vocals, much like many other aspects of the production, weren’t consistently polished throughout; hopefully the occasional slipped pitch will be ironed out over the course of the week.


Having said all that, My Favorite Year isn’t hugely chorus-heavy, and relied on the efforts of Nick Denton (Benjy Stone) and Will Emery (Alan Swann) in particular. Though Denton’s American accent and singing weren’t always secure, he more than made up for it with his deft physicality and facial expressions. He warmed into the role and drew well-deserved laughs towards the end of the show, particularly as his chemistry developed with on-stage love interest Annie Davison (K.C. Downing), who more than matched him for acting talent and held the audience’s attention with her delicate singing voice. However, if it comes down to singing, the standout by far must be Will Emery. Whilst he lacked some of O’Toole’s suave charm in his acting, he brought pathos to the role and captured the hidden heartbreak of Swann’s broken family relationships well in “If the World Were Like the Movies”. His expressive singing voice was a consistent crowd pleaser.


These three were well supported by Sadie Kempner, Imogen Coutts and Adam Richardson who displayed strong singing voices and characterisation, and Tom Mack, who’s well-timed mime regularly stole the scene in spite of his lack of lines. Joe Stanton trod a fine line in his portrayal of Filipino boxer Rookie Carroca, but he provided a welcome pantomimic foil to the more serious undertones of the story, eliciting many a laugh from the audience along the way.


The orchestra, enthusiastically directed by Oliver Milton, was arguably the highlight of the show. Though falling apart in some of the quieter and more exposed moments and struggling with tuning issues in the Overture, they provided a solid accompaniment to the singers and relished moments of film score-esque orchestration. It must be stressed that this is not an easy score, and they handled it masterfully. The rhythm section was strong throughout and the brass maintained a great tone in the forte and more piano moments alike. Frustratingly, the balance between band and singers was often amiss and the singers need to watch Milton more for entries, but hopefully these issues will be remedied as the cast, band and technicians get more used to performing in that space.


Performing in a space that serves college meals by day and audiences by night is not easy. Having said which, the use of a well built platform and lighting gantry added a touch of professionalism and went some way towards mitigating the reality of the venue’s regular purpose. It would have been nice to see more variety in the lighting design, but the use of a blue wash in “Exits” was effective. Though the set is not complex and set pieces sometimes feel out of period, credit must go to director Stella Alexandrova for her creative use of the space; the use of the curtain in particular enabled smooth scene changes. A few technical hitches were expected, but I’m sure the relocating window will have been nailed firmly in place by now and that mic packs will be strapped on tight; in any case, the cast dealt with any issues with admirable professionalism.


On the whole, it was a very enjoyable night. That the entire ensemble of technicians and performers were from one (quite small!) college is impressive, and they have pulled off a convincing and, at times, poignant rendition of this show. I’d urge anyone who wants to experience something outside of the regular musical theatre fare of Wicked and Les Mis to go and check it out; I might even get the soundtrack on iTunes…

19 February 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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