Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 20, 2005
issue of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
George Street: The Last Five Years
‘The Last Five Years," the musical now in previews and opening Friday,
April 22, at the George Street Playhouse, would not have been included
in the current season had it not been for the wiles and also the
enthusiasm of its stars, Colin Hanlon and Sarah Litzsinger.
It was during the run of last year’s "tick, tick, BOOM!" at George
Street, in which Hanlon and Litzsinger also starred, that director
David Saint happened to hear Hanlon doing some vocal warm-ups in the
basement of the theater. "I felt like the Phantom of the Opera,"
Hanlon says. Saint’s ears were evidently pricked when he heard Hanlon
singing a song that was not part of the score for "tick, tick, BOOM!"
It was instead the octave-spanning, vocal chords-stretching song,
"Moving Too Fast," from "The Last Five Years." (Hanlon says that "The
Last Five Years" has been a favorite of his ever since he first heard
the score.) Perhaps it was not quite as devious a plan as was hatched
by the conniving young actress Eve Harrington to get in the good
graces of aging star Margo Channing in "All About Eve," but it was,
nevertheless, a subtle ploy set in motion by Hanlon to stir Saint’s
interest, in the hopes that he would become intrigued by what he
heard. Litzsinger was as much a fan of the show as was Hanlon, and
they didn’t let any opportunity go by without suggesting it to Saint
as a perfect vehicle for themselves and as something special to be
This is not to say that composer Robert Jason Brown’s two-character
virtually sung-through musical can’t speak – make that sing – for
itself. It received high praise when it played at the Minetta Lane
Theater in the early months of 2002 and has proved a popular musical
at regional theaters and colleges. But it was through the concerted
efforts of Hanlon and Litzsinger that George Street’s director David
Saint would be won over and give his okay to producing this intimate
bittersweet musical that traces the five-year life of a marriage.
During the run of "tick, tick, BOOM!," Hanlon noticed that Saint was
playing "The Last Five Years" CD in his car. Despite what he had hoped
he was setting in motion, Hanlon and Litzsinger were sure that Saint
was joking when he kept telling them to save the time, he would do the
show next year.
Some critics of the original production saw "The Last Five Years" as
the flip side of "I Do, I Do," the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
musical based on Jan de Hartog’s play "The Four Poster," in which we
see a couple survive the ups and downs over 50 years of marriage.
Unlike that play, "The Last Five Years" follows a darker course
pebbled with infidelity and contemporary career issues that leads to
the failure of a marriage.
The musical’s intricate structure is unique in that Cathy
(Litzsinger), an aspiring actress and Jamie (Hanlon), a writer, each
tell their story from different starting points, while each occupies
their own space on stage. Cathy begins her story at the end of the
marriage, and Jamie begins when he first falls in love with Cathy.
Only during the middle – when they get married – do the two stories
come together and Cathy and Jamie sing together.
Composer Robert Jason Brown is one of a new generation of highly
regarded musical theater composers. He won a Tony Award for his score
for "Parade" (1998). His first musical, "Songs for a New World"
(1995), has had more than 50 productions around the United States. He
has been particularly praised for his ability to support his winsomely
modernist melodies with uncommonly witty lyrics.
Litzsinger, a pretty, petite blonde, has the distinction of being
Broadway’s longest-running Belle in Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast."
"I understudied the role of Belle for one year and then played the
role for two years, so I was ready to move on." She has also appeared
in Broadway musicals – the short-lived "Amour;" the long-running pop
opera "Les Miserables" (Eponine/Cosette), the 1984 revival of
"Oliver," and "Marilyn, An American Fable."
Litzsinger says she welcomes the challenge of singing the role of
Cathy in "The Last Five Years" because its wide dramatic range allows
her to go vocally from a beautiful legato voice to something closer to
screaming and ugly. "The beginning of the show is more taxing for me
because I am going backwards. But at the end of the show, I am at the
end of our first date, happy and full of potential, and Colin is at an
empty, emotionally bankrupt place," says Litzsinger, who with Hanlon
assures me that Saint has made the structure easier to follow than it
was in the New York production.
Unlike the bare bones production in New York, Litzsinger explains that
Saint’s production includes projections and two revolving turntables
that turn toward each other and away from each other, like two
separate orbits. "This will make it easier for people to see how our
characters are in different areas of time. But I also think that
people will find it easy to relate to the inner workings of the
relationship between these characters, all the emotional colors," says
Litzsinger, considering how this musical serves to replay things in
her own life, particularly as a struggling actress.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Litzsinger was only 10 years old when
her remarkable voice was noticed by a New York agent. On Broadway, she
understudied the role of the young Norma Jean in the 1983 musical bio
"Marilyn." Although Litzsinger finished high school in Indianapolis,
she chose to go back to New York and pursue her career in the theater
instead of going to college. "I was very confident at 18, and my
parents were great, giving me the money that would have been spent on
college. I took private singing and acting lessons instead," says
Litzsinger, who exudes the same bubbly air of confidence that she must
have started out with at 10.
It was a more typical route to Broadway for the trim, good-looking
28-year-old Philadelphia native Hanlon, who graduated with a BFA from
Syracuse University. Appearances at Syracuse Stage and Prince Music
Theater in Philadelphia would lead in typical fashion to his
pre-Broadway years as a waiter and as a host in a swanky SoHo
restaurant ("which I hated," he says). Hanlon got his first big break
touring with TheatreWorks, the touring children’s company. The show?
Judy Blume’s "Super Fudge." Equity card in hand, Hanlon subsequently
made his Broadway debut and continues to perform in the ensemble of
"Rent." He was seen as Frederic in "Pirates of Penzance" and performed
on the tall ship the Peking, moored at South Street Seaport. Hanlon
explains that because "Rent" is such a long-running show and has such
a large pool of performers to choose from, they can call him back if
he’s free. "It’s like job security, and I’m a good cover" (usually
covering for Gordon, the man, Mr. Grey, and others), he says, adding
"I’m going back to ‘Rent’ a week after this show closes."
But until then, I would bet that Hanlon and Litzsinger are already
hatching up another plot to keep working together. Saint would be well
advised to listen to whatever it is that they may be singing in the
basement of the theater.
— Simon Saltzman
"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. Previews through Thursday, April 21;
opening night, Friday, April 22; runs through Sunday, May 15. $28 to
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.