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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 20, 2005

issue of U.S. 1

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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

$56. 732-246-7717.

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