Like relationships in general, Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years is about expectations — met and unmet.
Jamie’s a successful Jewish writer. Wife Cathy’s a struggling actress. They describe the evolution of their relationship. But this isn’t a “he said, she said” piece. They tell it from distinctly different temporal perspectives.
Jamie (Cory Hibbs, who also directed) tells his side of the story in chronological order, from start to finish. Cathy (Sarah Le Clair, also musical director) tells hers backward, from the end to the beginning. Though the themes are universal, the dual perspectives offer different takes. We look for the time references. Who is where and when? While the expectations of one are on the rise, those of the other, like a counterpoint, have begun to fall.
Cathy starts at the end. Here’s how it feels when a relationship is over. Jamie begins in the heady days of growing love. He’s eager; she’s cautious. At some point they will meet in the middle, where both are at the same place. Do they see each event the same way? Were they aware of what went on at the time? Did they suspect changes?
The piece unfolds with few props. A box contains the one that makes a scene believable. This minimalist approach keeps the story, told with music and words, center stage. And this is where the talents of composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown come to bear. His dialogue, music, and lyrics are smart and witty, like an early Stephen Sondheim.
Brown keeps the balance between the male and the female, the sentimental and the pragmatic, always in the foreground. And one can’t help but identify with the thoughts and emotions of the characters. Like Jamie and Cathy, we have all been there: felt the attraction and optimism of a new love; and there at the end trying to figure out why we fell out of love.
If there was one problem with the production, it’s the uneven quality of the voices. It is very hard to project straight dialogue in such a small and intimate space. Bring music into the mix, and the singing must match the acoustics. That didn’t come through. Though performed well, the quality of the sound left much to be desired. It is worth mentioning that the play began its run on August 11. The singing is bound to improve as the actors adapt to the acoustics of the space.
Meanwhile, the show transmits the excitement of love well. In the end, one is hurting and the other has found a new love. And isn’t that how it goes?
Playing through August 21