There is something truly intoxicating about the Raleigh Little Theatre / Raleigh Symphony Orchestra production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years.
The show centers around the tempestuous relationship between Cathy and Jamie. Jamie, played by John Langley, is acting out their love story linearly, boy meets girl, boy falls in love, boy falls out of love, and then they break up. Cathy, on the other hand, played here by Faith Jones, simultaneously recounts their love affair backwards in time from its sorrowful end to its starry-eyed beginning. It is Jason Robert Brown’s deconstruct of his own failed marriage and an attempt “to exorcise” his own demons.
On opening night, a trepidatious Heather Strickland, Raleigh Little Theatre’s Executive Director, forewarned the audience that in the case of rain, the show, which is being performed in the amphitheater, might have to end prematurely. And perhaps it was that announcement, the anticipation of bad weather, or opening night jitters, that got into Langley and Jones’ head at the outset, because neither one seemed completely on their game. Some of Jones’ words were hard to understand from the back of the amphitheater, and Langley struggled with some of the notes in his upper register. After a few numbers, Strickland returned to the stage to pause the show and told the audience that she was hopeful the show might be able to continue after a brief bout of bad weather passed.
Then as if a miracle had happened, the rain came and went, the six-piece orchestra returned to the stage, the audience filed back to their seats, and the show resumed. This time, however, an animated Langley opened with a fervid rendition of Moving Too Fast. It was like he had rebounded and returned with newfound determination. Jones followed that up by delivering a pitch-perfect, engrossing rendition of I’m a Part of That. She was controlled and unyielding and from that moment on, her intensity level never wavered. And as her velvety voice permeated the night air, it felt like we, the entire audience, were rallying behind her, echoing the same shared sentiment. We, indeed, were all a part of this, live theater at its most unpredictable and best.
Directed by Raleigh Little Theatre’s Artistic Director Patrick Torres, The Last Five Years marks the first musical the company has produced in-person since A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in 2019. Torres has a keen understanding of the juxtaposed timelines here and makes it a bit easier for the audience to comprehend what is going on by putting Jones and Langley on stage at the same time sparingly. Consequently, those few moments when we do see them together, feel even more significant and telling.
The Last Five Years also marks the second time Raleigh Little Theatre has collaborated with Raleigh Symphony Orchestra to produce a concert of this kind. Their first collaboration was a West Side Story concert in 2019. Having seen another production of The Last Five Years (and being somewhat familiar with the various cast recordings), I have to say that listening to Raleigh Symphony Orchestra perform this piece, under the experienced direction of Jim Waddelow, afforded me an opportunity to hear the subtleties and textures in Brown’s score, perhaps for the first time.
The strong vocals and show-stopping numbers far outweighed any momentary lapses opening night. But more than that, witnessing the resiliency of these performers, these musicians, this audience, and this theater company first-hand, gave me hope that more in-person performances will return soon and that even with COVID restrictions and safety guidelines in place, artistic quality and integrity will not have to be compromised.
Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS runs through this weekend. For ticket information visit https://raleighlittletheatre.org/.
For a complete schedule of Triangle theater events, visit the Beltline to Broadway Calendar.