REVIEWS: My Favorite Year

My Favorite Year Review April 26, 2003
Reviewed by Seth Bisen-Hersh

My Favorite Year is the current offering of the revival series, Musicals Tonight. It is an old-fashioned musical comedy that premiered at Lincoln Center in 1992 and sadly only ran 37 performances. Musicals Tonight presents a scaled-back version, and the show sparkles due to the incredibly well-written script by Joseph Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

Based on the movie of the same title, the basic plot of My Favorite Year follows Benjy Stone, a freshman writer for the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade, a live comedy show in 1954. Alan Swann, a renowned film star, is all set to guest star the week of the show, but he is washed up and is an incessant drinker. Stone, who used to go to all of Swann’s pictures to get over his father leaving his family, talks Kaiser into allowing Swann to stay and is put in charge of keeping him sober.

There are also many other characters that appear in the show’s subplots. First of all, there is K.C., Benjy’s love interest. There is Benjy’s overbearing mother, Belle, and her ex-boxer husband, Rookie. There is Swann’s abandoned daughter, Tess. Finally, there are the other comedy writers on the show: Sy, Alice and Herb. All of these characters combine to make an extremely enjoyable show.

Without a luscious set and lights, the show’s heart shines through. The book is witty and clever and hilarious and really touching. The score flows fluently. The score is perfection. Flaherty and Ahrens are undeniably the most amazing songwriting team still writing today. The score has many highlights, among them are the rousing opening number, "Twenty Million People," "Larger Than Life," Benjy’s opening ballad about his love for the movies; the touching "Funny," where K.C. explains her goal; "Shut Up and Dance," the completely adorable love duet, and "The Lights Come Up," Swann’s eleven o’clock torch song.

Musicals Tonight’s production is great. The cast is top-notch. David Staller is the standout performer. He does an excellent job as Alan Swann. He nails both of his emotional numbers. The other really noteworthy performer is Donna Coney Island as Alice Miller (the role that garnered Andrea Martin a Tony Award). Island is hilarious and milks every gag she gets.

The direction and choreography by Thomas Mills, is very well done. The show flows wonderfully. As always with Musicals Tonight, the use of the black binders (which the actors carry with them, containing their scripts) sometimes as props, sometimes as choreography, is extraordinarily clever.

Overall, My Favorite Year turned into one of my favorite evenings this year. If you missed this show on Broadway, I highly encourage you to check it out while you get the chance, especially with such a polished cast. It is unclear why this show didn’t enjoy a longer run from the splendid production. I think it should be revived in the near future!

Affordable musicals [...]
New York Blade May 16, 2003
Reviewed by David Noh

Can’t Afford the Encores Series of musical revivals, or just don’t want to deal with battling for tickets? Check out Musicals Tonight, the downtown brainchild of Mel Miller, which essentially does the same thing, with one piano, for $19.

My Favorite Year, their last production, was actually an improvement on the expensive original show, which flopped in 1992. A large reason for the revival’s success was David Staller, in the role of the dissolute matinee idol, which Peter O’Toole originated cinematically, and Tim Curry played on Broadway (unconvincingly, like Norma Desmond).

Staller, superbly off-book, gave a deeply charming, glamorous and touching performance, which evoked two other great actors: John Barrymore and James Mason. He instantaneously raised the performance bar for the series, which is next doing Lady, Be Good, through June 1st. (212) 206-1515).

Favored ‘Year’
The New York Post May 2003
Reviewed by Donald Lyons

It’s happened! Musicals Tonight, the downtown Encores!, is finally putting on a show with witty dialogue, snappy musical and terrific cast - all at the same time.

Usually, there’ll be, say, a gorgeous early Porter or Gershwin score sung by trite gangsters and bimbos played by fresh-faced youngsters.

This time it’s doing My Favorite Year, a 1993 musical with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Joseph Dougherty, about a flashy, handsome, drunken movie star - based on Errol Flynn - on a TV variety show.

Let me tell you, a good book makes all the difference - as does a good director/choreographer, in this case Thomas Mills, who has assembled an ideal cast and kept them operating at full stream.

Ahrens and Flaherty have gone on to write Ragtime and A Man of No Importance, but is many ways My Favorite Year, adapted from a movie starring Peter O’Toole, remains their best, most harmonious work.

The central figure is Benjy (David Ranson), a young jack of all trades at the TV studio and an aspiring writer.

Benjy is embarrassed by his intrusive mother Belle (Mary Ellen Ashley, who succeeds in the role by not pushing too hard), shy in front of his girl (a fine, funny Carey Anderson) and nonplussed by the flamboyant Hollywood creature Alan Swann (David Staller).

Ranson, sporting a sweater and a bow tie, gets exactly the combination in Benjy of goofy ingenuousness and shrewd common sense, in songs like "Larger Than Life" and (with Anderson) "Shut Up and Dance."

Staller brings just the right blend of glamour, charm, self-destructiveness and kindness; in such songs as "Manhattan," "Exits" and "If the World Were Like the Movies," he creates a perfect musical characterization, serious but not too serious.

Ranson and Staller deliver first-rate work, matched by all the cast, especially by Donna Coney Island (!) and Philip Hoffman as acerbic second bananas. In all, a delightful musical comedy done by a dynamite cast.

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