It’s hard to reconcile the Temple Theatre/RhinoLeap production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years. On the one hand, the performances are quite good and well worth seeing. On the other hand, the haphazardness of the show, from its structure to some of the creative choices, is puzzling.
The show premiered in Chicago in 2001 and was named one of TIME Magazine’s 10 best shows that year. It opened off-Broadway a year later and spawned an off-Broadway revival in 2013, a film adaptation in 2014, and a West End production in 2016. In 2011, Brown wrote in the preface of the libretto (Rowman and Littlefeld), that he created the show “from the outside in” and was “exorcising the demons” of his own failed marriage with this piece. And while that realness comes through in Brown’s lyrical, intoxicating score, the show feels more like a song-cycle or concept album than a fully-fledged musical.
Boy and girl meet. Jamie is an aspiring writer. Cathy is an aspiring actress. They fall in love. They get married. They split up. That’s the premise of The Lasts 5 Years. And while it seems like a simple enough plot, it isn’t.
That’s because Jamie tells their story chronologically, from their first date to their break-up, while Cathy simultaneously tells her side of the same story backwards, beginning the day he walks out. She sings. He sings. Flashback and flash forward through five years. It’s mind-numbing, I know.
And to make matters worse, the director of this production, Jeremy Skidmore, has tried to decode the entangled timelines – i.e. dumb things down — by using projections, color-coded panels, and timestamps throughout. Unfortunately, between the projections, a director-imposed intermission (it’s a one-act show with a potty break), and some erratic blocking that defies convention, the timeline itself becomes a bit maddening and shifts the focus away from the melodic score and two very fine performances, which perhaps is Skidmore’s biggest offense. Ashley Robinson (Jamie) and Cameron Wade (Cathy) are two gifted actors, perhaps two of the best seen on the Temple stage of late. Both are skilled enough and emotionally invested enough to engage and tell this story simply and succinctly. If there is just one takeaway from this review, it is this. Trust your actors. Trust your audience.
If you can suspend belief and zero in on the performances, then you might get swept up in this story about falling out of love. However, like any solid relationship, it may take some resilience and patience.
The Last 5 Years runs through January 19th at Temple Theatre in Sanford. For more information visit the RDU on Stage calendar page or https://www.templeshows.com/showsandevents/2019-2020/last-five-years.
The show also runs from January 23rd through February 2nd at the Sunset Theatre in Asheboro. For more information on that, visit: https://www.rhinoleap.com/productions.
To hear the RDU on Stage podcast interview with Jason Robert Brown (Ep. 31), click here.