Malcolm Gets and Will Chasein The Story of My Life
(© Aaron Epstein)
Malcolm Gets and Will Chase
in The Story of My Life
(© Aaron Epstein)
In Neil Bartram and Brian Hill's two-character Broadway musical The Story of My Life, now in previews at the Booth Theatre, Will Chase and Malcolm Gets play Thomas and Alvin, a pair of childhood best friends who eventually go their own separate ways. While the men, whose combined Broadway credits include Aida, Rent, and Amour, are getting along swimmingly offstage on their first project together, they come from very different childhood backgrounds.

Chase grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky, the son of a minister, and had little acting ambition. "I studied percussion and eventually conducting, but I wasn't really into plays," says Chase. "My family is all very musical -- my dad sings, mom plays piano -- which may be why they were surprisingly open to letting me go to Oberlin College and growing my hair long and stuff. But I don't think people who knew me back at home would think I'd end up doing this. Then again, I don't think they see me on Law & Order and think, 'wow, that's weird.'"

Gets, who grew up among theater-loving parents in Gainesville, Florida, had a theatrical bent early on. (He also changed his name from Hugh to Malcolm in the third grade!) "I went to the University of Florida in my hometown when I was 16 and started doing professional theater early on," he says. "But there came a day when I had to decide whether I was going to stay in Florida -- I actually had ambitions of becoming the artistic director of a theater there -- or come to New York and give it a shot. And though I came, and I made it, I still always think if New York eventually throws me out, then I'll just go back there and do something else artistic."

Whatever their personal differences, the two are definitely united in their love for the material. Chase first became involved during a 2007 reading of the show at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival in New York, while Gets landed the role last summer, shortly before the show's out-of-town tryout at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut.

"What attracted me to the show is the storytelling; for me, it's always about the storytelling," says Chase. "I also love that my character gets to talk to the audience -- which has been happening a lot to me in the last few years. Maybe I have a knack for it. And since like I going to theater where I'm not always ahead of the piece -- which is hard to find these days -- I love being a part of one like this, where we flash back and it's not linear, and you're not always sure where you are or where it's going -- and that's ok. We have what I call lovely ambiguity."

"A lot of the show's songs are really these great singing monologues, and the way the songs and the dialogue work together is remarkable. Sometimes you can't tell the difference from when we stop speaking and start singing," says Gets. "So I feel like I'm getting to do everything I went to school to train for; it uses my skills as an actor, and a singer, and a musician. I was really hooked from my first audition with Will, and I play a lot of games with myself so I can convince myself that if I don't get the part, it doesn't matter. But I would be lying if I said I felt that way when I left this audition. And I've learned so much about myself and my life from doing this piece. Then again, I read somewhere that one of the early symptoms of approaching a nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."

While the show's characters are both in their mid-30s, the show appealed to audiences of all ages at Goodspeed. "We had these talkbacks after the show, and women, young people, old people -- they all kept raising their hands saying that the show was universal enough that it spoke to them," says Gets. "And I thought 'that's really good."

Chase and Gets also give a lot of credit for the finished product to director Richard Maltby Jr. "There was a very open feeling to rehearsal," says Gets. "Richard made it a very safe space and really encouraged us to find stuff for ourselves. It was never about go over there and pick up that prop." Adds Chase: "There was never any real blocking, and there still isn't; we're really allowed to play with the material."

As for the fact that the two actors are the only ones on stage for the show's 90-minute running time -- and never leave the stage -- it's not a problem. But it did affect the rehearsal process. "We found out early in rehearsals that we couldn't do eight-hour days like usual," says Chase. "After about four or five hours, we'd just get loopy and start to lose it. And when the poop jokes and the poop lyrics start, you know it's time to stop rehearsal."