Corrections or additions?
This drama review was prepared by Victor Miller for the May 4,
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
George Street Review: ‘The Last Five Years’
‘The Last Five Years," Jason Robert Brown’s thinly disguised depiction
of his failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill – an actress in her own
right, the musical now playing at George Street Playhouse in New
Brunswick, hit so close to home, that O’Neill threatened to sue to
stop the original production in 2001.
Brown, one of the up and coming young composer/lyricists, won a Tony
for best score of a musical for his first Broadway outing, the musical
"Parade" – a big show with a lot of the conventional structure of a
musical, albeit about an unconventional subject, anti-semitism in
early 20th century Atlanta. Besides composing (the highly regarded
"Songs from a New World"), Brown has been busy as musical director of
a number of shows (including the autobiographical "A New Brain" by
William Finn). He is clearly a creative force to be reckoned with.
There have been other Broadway shows that focus on exploring the
relationship of couples over the years – for example "I Do, I Do," a
musicalized version of the Tony award-winning play the "The Four
Poster." However, none of them have the intensity and the heartache of
"The Last Five Years." This is not a piece of light musical fare – but
as intense an exploration of a couple as any dramatic play.
"The Last Five Years" tells the story of Jamie Wellerstein (Colin
Hanlon) and Cathy Hiatt (Sarah Litzsinger) and their five-year
relationship. It uses the sometimes dangerous device of time reversal:
Jamie going forward and Cathy in reverse (which could also be a
metaphor for the course of their respective lives). They intersect in
the middle at their wedding. The story is told almost entirely in song
(no spoken dialogue). Almost all of the songs are monologues laying
out exhilaration, lust, disappointment and love – in short, what all
couples go through.
Cathy sings the opening number "Still Hurting" (while reading her
husband Jamie’s farewell letter), which tells us what the show is
about – the end of the relationship. Cathy, an aspiring actress from
the Eastern shore of Maryland, is burdened by normal doubts. We go
back to the beginning and see Jamie, a soon to be famous writer who is
supremely confident. He is a "nice Jewish boy" from Spring Valley, New
York (and a senior at Columbia), who is sick and tired of the sort of
girls he meets there. He is blown away by Cathy in "Shiksa Goddess."
In "I Can Do Better Than That," Cathy reveals that she wants her own
life as an actress and doesn’t want to settle for something ordinary.
She doesn’t want to settle for being the wife of the "great man" ("A
Part of That"). All of the songs are tuneful – as well as funny,
heartbreaking, and tender – and guide the story expertly. If I had to
pick my favorites they would be "The Schmuel Song," in which Jamie
urges Cathy to be more daring and risk-taking, in the guise of a
charming fairy tale, and "Summer in Ohio," in which Cathy describes
"summer stock hell" (I saw a number of theater folks in the audience
Director David Saint keeps the action propelled smoothly and without a
lull. Christopher Bailey’s lighting design keeps the time straight by
projecting the year during each song. The clever set, by Beowulf
Borritt, consists of two rotating platforms that highlight the
separate lives of Jamie and Cathy. With changing lighting the set
becomes everything from an apartment to a bar to a car and more.
Brown’s music is varied and sometimes complex. The pit, under the
expert musical direction of Ben Cohn, handles it with aplomb and
Both Hanlon and Litzsinger give their roles true heart and
believability. The musical demands are high, and they both meet them
with room to spare. "The Last Five Years" is a moving piece of theater
in which music and lyrics are fully integrated. George Street has
mounted an excellent production.
– Victor Miller
The Last Five Years, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New
Brunswick. Musical love story by Jason Robert Brown featuring Colin
Hanlon and Sarah Litzinger. Through May 15. $28 to $56. 732-246-7717.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.