The Last Five Years
Jason Robert Brown (music & lyrics)
The widely popular, much-produced, two-person musical The Last Five Years (music and lyrics by Broadway veteran Jason Robert Brown) came recently to San Francisco in a concert version for three performances only. Even after just one performance, social media sites lit up with “You have to go tomorrow to see…” Supported by an excellent, on-stage orchestra, two actors, Adam Kantor as Jamie and Betsy Wolfe as Cathy, sing a story of love found, love solidified in marriage, and then love lost as their two careers and lives go in opposite directions. What makes this telling so unique is that each half of this couple tells the story from opposite timeline beginnings. Cathy starts at the sad end of their five years when the break-up is imminent; Adam, at the exuberant beginning as he prepares for their first date.
The stories proceed with their separate ups and downs, only meeting once as the actual vows are declared. We watch the emotions and moods of the two ends of the relationship unfold before us. When Cathy is ‘still hurting’ in the opening song, Jamie’s opening is all about his excitement over his new ‘shiksa goddess’ girlfriend. What is interesting in this staging is that each actor continues to watch and react to the other’s, opposite-end story. Even when Cathy is hurting as the relationship is collapsing, she can then smile and seemingly remember the good times that Jamie is relating as he is telling the beginning of their story. Later as he is having lots of doubts and frustrations, he can laugh silently on the side and look lovingly at her as she tells her version of how it all began.
Mr. Brown’s lyrics and music are the stars of this show. All emotions of dating, moving in together, deciding to marry, dealing with career issues and triumphs, doubts about self and partner, and suffering through increasing conflicts and ultimate disillusion are captured in songs that are appropriately snappy, funny, grand, aching, and haunting. Even in concert format, the exuberance and the torments of Cathy and Jamie are deeply felt by us all as we really do get to know a lot about these two people and how they are so very different. We easily begin to see parallels to our own histories of convoluted mixtures of love and ambition, of ego and loyalty, of blind trust and obvious betrayal.
Of course what sells Mr. Brown’s songs and musical are two outstanding singers who can also act convincingly. Few complaints are possible about the amazing voices and delivery of Ms. Wolfe or Mr. Kantor. The one minor fault is that Ms. Wolfe seemed too quick and too often to belt, even blast her numbers. As the concert/play progressed, this tendency became a bit tiring and too expected.
In the end/beginning of this musical, we as audience once again understand that no relationship break-up is all black and white and that regret is usually shared in the end as much as love is in the beginning. These stories are both tragic and familiar. That is probably why The Last Five Years continues to draw audiences to many theatres across the nation.
Rating: 5 E’s