Kenai Performers stage 'My Favorite Year' show

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2004

It is not unusual for the Kenai Performers to make their productions as elaborate and polished as possible, but in their latest musical, "My Favorite Year," the group truly goes to excess.

The year in reference is 1954, where "TV was tops, comedy was King and heroes were larger than life," as the promo goes. The story centers around Benjy Stone, played by Mick Audette, who has landed his dream job as a freshman writer on the New-York based King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade live TV show. He can barely contain his excitement when he learns that the show's next guest star will be none other than the daring, courageous, heroic and swashbuckling film star, Alan Swann.

Several other terms could be used to more aptly describe Swann like has-been, drunk, womanizer, arrogant and emotionally crippled but Benjy is lost in his childhood adoration of the man and is blind to Swann's faults.

Benjy's silver screen-influenced ideals of Swann and heroism begin to crumble after he is charged with keeping Swann sober and out of trouble which proves to be a difficult task. As Benjy recognizes more about the wreck Swann has made of his life, he begins to realize that the idealized version of life he yearned for as a child watching movies is not as glamourous and attainable as he once though.

"The phrase that was coming to my mind was, 'When does a good thing become excessive and what does it do to you when you step over the line?'" said director Carol Ford.

That questions underlies the plot of "My Favorite Year." Swann, played by Kenai Perform-ers' veteran Erik Larson, has led a life full of unhealthy excesses including drinking and womanizing, but also being daring and courageous to the point where he is no longer in touch with what really matters in life.

Even eager, energetic, naive Benjy, who is a diametric opposite of Swann, suffers from excess in his life namely his unbridled hero worship of a move-star image to the point where he shuns reality as not living up to his glamorous standards. Through their interactions, the two must learn to derail their lives from the paths they are following and get on more stable tracks.


King Kaiser (seated center), played by Jack Sinclair, and fellow actors perform a sketch for the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade show.

Photo by Jay Barrett

"It's about the subtleties of when you look to heroes and art to make our lives bigger and to expand our horizons and stretch our horizons and when does that become excessive?" Ford said.

The subtlety of their main characters' struggles to come to grips with reality adds depth to the production.

"There's not only subtlety, but it's got poignancy," Ford said. "I think that's what resonates with people."

Though the main characters are meant to be a bit over-the-top, their problems are not so out there that they seem inhuman.

"I think I have to relate to Alan Swann a lot," Larson said. "I have to find the the depth of Alan Swann in the pain that he feels so I have to find the pain in my life to relate with that."

Larson said playing Swann has probably been his most difficult role to date because there are so many facets to the character. At first glance, Swann is an arrogant womanizing movie star, but there's more to him than that.

"(He) turns around and gets angry, then falls apart and is this crushed-up man, and that's what makes this difficult," Larson said.


Photo by Jay Barrett

One of the interesting things about this show is that the actors all have been able to relate to their characters in some way or another.

"This cast has been a fantastic cast," Larson said. "They kind of all fit their characters in some unique way."

Audette admits that he is very much the eager, energetic Benjy Stone in reality.

"I just love it because the part I have is kind of who I am in real life," he said. "It's not a stretch for who I am. I'm kind of spastic, myself."

This is Audette's first time performing a lead role. Though he's nervous, he's also enjoying the experience.

"I'm having the time of my life," he said. "I have not had this much fun in a long time. I love being around everybody. I'm a people person. I just love it."


Alan Swann dodges a thrust by his opponent in a sketch for The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade.

Photo by Jay Barrett

Audette's and the other actors' enthusiasm is what makes the show's fast-paced and complex dialogue and musical numbers as transfixing as they are. From the elaborate opening number where the cast and crew of the King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade scramble to get ready for show time to the suspenseful closing sketch where Swann makes a somewhat belated entrance, the show is full of humor. Benjy's fellow writers for the show are constantly cracking sarcastic one-liners, usually at the expense of each other. The overbearing but well-meaning Belle May Steinberg Carroca, Benjy's mother, and her once-famous boxing husband who hasn't quite mastered English yet, are another source of laughs, as are Swann's drunken and smarmy antics.

The peppy 1950s music, auth-entic costumes, elaborate set and frenetic though controlled chaos of the TV set scenes add to the show's appeal.


Benjy Stone attempts to sweep the woman of his dreams, K.C. Downing, played by Jill Wojciechowski, of her feet.

Photo by Jay Barrett

"I like the energy," Audette said. "I think the first number really grabs (the audience) and hopefully will hold on to them the whole way."

Ford said her biggest worry is that the people will hear the title, say "What is that?" and decide not to go because they've never heard of it.

She also worries some people may have seen the movie the play is based on and get the wrong idea about the play. The movie was dark and focused on Swann's wrecked life, whereas the play is more fun and upbeat and takes the idealistic Benjy as its focus.

"Just for the humor of it, people are going to love it," Ford said. "It's real high energy all the way around and the orchestration is just exquisite"

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