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This drama review was prepared by Victor Miller for the May 4,

2005

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

laughing knowingly).

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

feeling.

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.


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