Sunday, September 18, 2016

THE LAST FIVE YEARS has an endearing musical score and a wonderful cast

As the lights come up on The Last Five Years, a musical by Jason Robert Brown, we find Catherine Hiatt (Neely Gevaart) sitting alone.  She sings “Still Hurting” in which she reveals the end of her five year marriage to Jamie. 

At the conclusion of that number, Jamie Wellerstein (Jason Leupold) bursts forth with “Shiksa Goddess,” the story of how a nice Jewish boy has fallen in love with Catherine, a beautiful non-Jewish girl.

Wait, these two are telling the same story, but from different times.  Yes, one of the most intriguing aspects of The Last Five Years, which is now on stage at Lakeland Civic Theatre, is that we are watching a relationship develop and disintegrate at the same time.  Also, this musical is told entirely in song. Yes, there are no spoken words.  In addition, the male and female in the relationship interact only once. 

Cathy tells the story in backward time, while Jamie relates the tale from the beginning to the end.

Though it may sound like the tale is hard to follow, it isn’t.  Once the audience catches on to the counter order, it becomes interesting to watch what happens and what happened, and why love crashes and burns in this emotionally fraught tale.  We realize that infatuation, new love, real life experiences, wants and needs grow and fade, frustration sets in, cross experiences emerge, and the pair each needs to move on.

Cathy and Jamie’s stories intersect halfway through at their wedding, which is the only time when the two characters interact.  

The tale, to a degree, actually follows Jason Robert Brown’s own life and failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill.  Interestingly, O’Neill threatened legal action on the grounds the story of the musical represented her relationship with Brown too closely.  Brown changed some of the script as a result.

In the stage story, the five-year relationship comes apart when the mid-20 year old Jamie’s first novel is published and he becomes an overnight sensation.  (Brown’s first Off-Broadway show was produced when he was 25.)   As Jamie’s fortunes soar, Cathy’s theatrical career never takes off.   

Through fourteen songs we see the coming together and problems arising (“See I’m Smiling”); the emergence of Jamie as a writing sensation (“Moving Too Fast”); an expression of love even in frustration (“I’m a Part of That”); a promise of support as each follows their dreams (“The Schmuel Song”);  a possibility of Cathy equalling Jamie’s success (“A Summer in Ohio”); a proposal and marriage (“The Next Ten Minutes”); Jamie’s almost giving in to temptation (“A Miracle Would Happen”); Cathy’s frustration (“Climbing Uphill”); marital squabbles and attempts to deal with them (“If I Didn’t Believe in You”); Jamie’s infidelity (“Nobody Needs to Know”); the lamenting of the now lost relationship (“I Could Never Rescue You”).

Brown wrote the Tony Award winning score for The Bridges of Madison County, Like Bridges, the score for The Last Five Years is outstanding.  Combining a number of musical genres, including folk, Latin, rock, Klemzer, classical, pop, and jazz, the sounds vary to fit the necessary changing moods.

Fortunately for Lakeland audiences, Jason Leupold (Jamie) and Neely Gevaart (Cathy) are not only wonderful vocalists, but are talented actors.  Without their abilities, the production could have been a disaster.  There is little action on stage, other than costume changes and the moving of large bookcase/closets around to indicate settings.  Bravo to Leupold and Gevaart!

Director Martin Friedman does a good job of keeping the ninety minute intermissionless show moving along.  He is aided by Jordan Cooper’s orchestra (Rachel Gante, Olivia Clark and Tim Keo).  Cooper is a solid pianist, but at times he gets too carried away with the louder passages and drowns out the singers.

The show is intimate and would have been better served by a smaller production space, something that the Lakeland Community College auditorium definitely is not.
Christina Pierce’s lighting design aids in developing the moods.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  The Last Five Years is a musical which many audience members, including myself, will like due to its structure, exquisite music, and the talent of the cast.   Don’t’ go expecting large production show stoppers and dance numbers as they are not part of this script or concept.

The Last Five Years runs through October 2, 2016  at the Lakeland Civic Theatre located on the campus of Lakeland Community College.  For tickets call 440-5256-7526 or go to