My Favorite Year – Lincoln Center 1992
Act I On a bare stage, Benjy Stone recalls 1954, his favorite year. As he describes his first job as a freshman writer on television’s hottest program, The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade, his memories suddenly come alive. The broadcast studio materializes just five minutes before the show goes on the air live. The star, the writers, the dancers and singers, and even Benjy’s mother, all frantically prepare as 8:00 P.M. approaches – Twenty Million People. On Monday morning in the writers’ room, Leo Silver (the producer) breaks the news that this week’s guest star, Martha Raye, won’t be appearing on the show. Her replacement is the swashbuckling movie star Alan Swann. Despite everyone’s trepidation about the somewhat over-the-hill, frequently sloshed Swann, Benjy is excited at the prospect of meeting his childhood hero – Larger Than Life. A sketch for Alan Swann has to get written and fast. Benjy is desperate to do it. Headwriter Sy Benson won’t hear of it, not wanting to be shown up by the “new kid.” When King Kaiser rejects Sy’s “all-purpose emergency sketch” (which he keeps handy for just such a situation), Benjy jumps in and spontaneously creates a new sketch, making it appear to have been Sy’s idea all along. As the sketch takes shape, everyone in the office is drawn into it – the other writers, Alice Miller and Herb Lee (who never speaks except by whispering to Alice), K.C. Downing and King Kaiser himself – The Musketeer Sketch. Alan Swann suddenly arrives drunk and passes out. Benjy pleads with King Kaiser not to replace him. Reluctantly King agrees, but only if Benjy acts as Swann’s chaperone for the whole week. If Benjy doesn’t make sure that Swann shows up for all rehearsals, stays out of trouble and, most importantly, remains sober, Benjy will lose the job he loves. Benjy and K.C. escort Swann to his suite at the Waldorf Hotel. While Swann is sleeping it off, Benjy, in one of his many attempts to get K.C.’s attention, tries to sweep her off her feet as he imagines Swann would do in a movie musical, complete with a romantic off-stage chorus, which the literal-minded K.C., of course, cannot hear. They are interrupted by Benjy’s mother, Belle. She’s accompanied by her second husband, a former bantam weight boxing champion from the Philippines, Rookie Carroca. Belle wants Benjy to invite Alan Swann to her home in Brooklyn for dinner. But Benjy is embarrassed by the prospect of Swann meeting his mother and stepfather until Belle convinces him – Rookie In The Ring. When Swann awakens, Benjy asks him to lay off drinking for the week as a favor. Swann agrees, but warns Benjy that there are other intoxicants available and leads him off for a wild night on the town – Manhattan. Even without.drinking, Swann manages to get into trouble (Naked In Bethesda Fountain), but soon charms everyone as rehearsals begin for the TV show. King Kaiser, a very superstitious man, warns Alan about the many things guaranteed to bring bad luck while rehearsing – everything from saying the number seven to sneezing in the studio – The Gospel According To King. As the week progresses, Swann is on his best behavior. He even teaches Benjy how to duel. Finally, the Musketeer Sketch is ready to be performed – The Musketeer Sketch Rehearsal. During a break in rehearsal, Benjy tries once again to get K.C. to pay attention to him. This time K.C has had enough and retreats into the ladies’ room. While there, she confesses to Alice that she likes Benjy but she is intimidated because he’s always so funny and she’s not funny at all. Alice tries in vain to teach K.C. a joke so that she will be more comfortable with Benjy – Funny /The Duck Joke. It’s Friday night and Alan Swann agrees to go with Benjy to dinner at Belle’s apartment in Brooklyn. While Swann goes to get his coat, a young girl asks Benjy to deliver an invitation to Alan Swann for her school’s reception that night at the Plaza Hotel. Thinking it’s just another fan letter, Benjy pockets the invitation. In Brooklyn, Benjy’s family are beside themselves to have a real movie star in their presence. First Swann is greeted by Benjy’s Uncle Morty and Rookie. Then Belle enters dressed to the nines. Even Aunt Sadie appears at the door in her wedding gown! Just when Benjy is about as embarrassed as he could be, a starstruck crowd of people from the neighborhood shove their way into the apartment – Welcome To Brooklyn. After dinner, Swann and Belle settle on the couch for a heart-to-heart talk. Swann reveals that he has a daughter, Tess, who he hasn’t seen for three years. Benjy hears this and realizes that it was Tess who visited the TV studio earlier that night, and he hands Swann the invitation. But Alan is reluctant to face his daughter – If The World Were Like The Movies. As the first-act curtain falls, Swann breaks his vow to Benjy by drowning his sorrows in Belle’s after-dinner champagne. Act II A little while later, Swann is very drunk. Benjy chases him into Central Park in an effort to get him back to his Waldorf suite. But Swann is now determined to go to the Plaza to see his estranged daughter – Exits. In front of the Plaza Hotel, Alan Swann causes a scene, which is witnessed by Tess. He is humiliated and unable to talk to her. Drunk and despondent, he heads back to his hotel. Very early the next morning, Benjy calls K.C to come to the Waldorf to look after Swann. Exhausted from the last evening, Benjy lets his guard down and admits to K.C. how much she means to him. K.C. is finally able to respond. She even hears the movie musical off-stage chorus after she and Benjy kiss – Shut Up And Dance. Earlier in the week, King Kaiser convinced his former vaudeville partner Alice to do a number on this week’s show. Alice, who was always upstaged by King whenever they performed together, reluctantly agreed to do it, but only if this time she would be assured of getting “one gag” of her own. Now, during the dress rehearsal a few minutes before air time, Alice has the dancers tie up and “gag” the unsuspecting King Kaiser while she takes the stage for the first time – Professional Showbizness Comedy. Meanwhile, moments before air-time, Swann enters dressed for the Musketeer Sketch. Belle (who is in the studio audience for the broadcast) barges in backstage, excited with the news that Tess is sitting in her row. Benjy, who has invited Tess without Swann’s knowledge, tries to reassure Swann but it’s too late. Swann’s in a panic. He can’t go on stage, and certainly not on live television – The Lights Come Up. Alan Swann walks off the show. Benjy realizes that Swann is not the larger-than-life hero of his youth, but a man with life-size flaws. The live broadcast has begun – Maxford House/The Musketeer Sketch Finale. When the Musketeer Sketch starts it’s clear that Swann is nowhere to be found and the sketch looks sure to be a disaster in front of twenty million people. Suddenly, in an act of real-life courage, Alan Swann swoops in on a rope just in time to finish the sketch and be reunited with Tess. The sketch and the television studio become part of Benjy’s memory once again, but this time with a perspective that comes from his experience. For Benjy Stone, 1954 would always be the year he had his first success as a writer, fell in love for the first time and, most importantly, learned that heroism is not what you see in the movies but what real people do for each other – My Favorite Year.
Benjy Stone: Evan Pappas King Kaiser: Tom Mardirosian Sy Benson: Josh Mostel K.C. Downing: Lannyl Stephens Alice Miller: Andrea Martin Herb Lee: Ethan Phillips Belle Steinberg Carroca: Lainie Kazan Leo Silver: Paul Stolarsky Alan Swann: Tim Curry Rookie Carroca: Thomas Ikeda Tess: Katie Finneran Uncle Morty: David Lipman Aunt Sadie: Mary Stout Announcer: Michael McGrath Ensemble: Robert Ashford, Leslie Bell, Maria Calabrese, Kevin Chamberlin, Colleen Dunn, Katie Finneran, James Gerth, Michael Gruber, David Lipman, Roxie Lucas, Nora Mae Lyng, Michael O’Gorman, Marcus Olson, Alan Muraoka, Jay Poindexter, Russell Ricard, Mary Stout, Thomas Titone, Amiee Turner, Bruce Winant, Christina Youngman