Sunday, May 02, 2004

The Last Five Years (Dobama)

'THE LAST FIVE YEARS'--Dobama finds musical that fits its mission

When it opened Off-Broadway in March of 2002, Jason Robert Brown’s ‘THE LAST FIVE YEARS’ was met with superlative reviews. It was termed “compulsively enjoyable. ”The lyrics were called “accomplished, clever, tender, and arching in feeling.” Mr. Brown was lauded as “a leading member of a new generation of composers who embody high hopes for the American musical.”

Brown is the author of superlative musical drama, ‘THE ‘PARADE,’ the well-received ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD,” and the critically panned “URBAN COWBOY.’ His music is not easily categorized, as is say, the writing of Andrew Lloyd Weber, where everything, after a while, all sounds the same. He writes in the mold of Steven Sondheim. His music is dramatic, often witty, always intellectual, yet with shades of wit and sincerity.

‘THE LAST FIVE YEARS’ chronicles a young couple's romance in an interesting way. Her story starts at the end of their relationship; his begins on the day they met. The show captures the heartbreaking and universally felt moments of modern romance.

Dobama is noted as “Cleveland’s Contemporary Stage.” Very seldom will you find a musical in the theatre’s offerings. However, every once in a while the artistic director finds the right fit of theatre and musical. ‘THE LAST FIVE YEARS’ is a wise choice. It has a contemporary message to tell and it tells it well.

The strength and the weakness of Dobama’s production is the cast. As with Sondheim, it takes special performers to get Brown’s work “right.” The two-person cast must not only be superlative singers, but superlative actors to get the numerous textures from the lyrics, and sing what are often difficult musical arrangements.

The Off-Broadway cast was lauded for “making beautiful music together.” Unfortunately, this is not consistently the case at Dobama.

On one hand, Scott Plate is wonderful. He is a superb actor and has developed into quite a singing talent. He commands the stage when he is present. He understands that Brown’s lyrics need interpretation and texturing. He pulls it all off with a well honed performance.

Unfortunately, Emily Krieger did not fare as well in her role as Cathy. Miss Krieger has neither the real life nor stage experience to undertake a role that fits the likes of Audra McDonald. She is a good college level performer, but didn’t quite have the whole package to pull off the quality of performance needed.

Vickie Bussert creatively directed the production which moved smoothly along and was visually interesting. If she knew that Krieger was going to assume the role of Cathy, she needed to work more on polishing her acting skills and working with her on character development.

The show’s musicians Nancy Maier, Morgan Scagliotti and Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir were excellent in both playing proficiently and backing up rather than drowning out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE LAST FIVE YEARS’ is a well-conceived musical. The Dobama production, at least the one I saw, does not live up to the level of the script, score and lyrics. Not having seen Sandy Simon I can’t say whether the production would have worked better with the equity actress in the role, but based on her ‘SIDE SHOW’ and ‘MUSIC MAN’ performances at Cain Park, I could assume that she does a fine job and that would have made a major difference.