It’s been about 15 years since the two-person, Drama Desk winning musical, The Last Five Years, was first produced in New York. In that time, it has become somewhat of a favorite for small theatres to do because of the small cast and intimate story. It tells the tale of a five year romance, told from start to finish from the man’s point of view and from it’s final moment to it’s first from the woman’s perspective. Jamie is fresh out of college and is quickly climbing the professional and social ladders as a writer when he meets his “shiksa goddess”, Cathy, a fresh-off-the -bus actress looking for her first break. Because we meet each of them on either end of the relationship, the scenes take place in a kind of parallel play, where each scene is played out to the audience or to the other who isn’t there. That is how it’s usually been done, to much success.
The Jason Robert Brown songs are lush, emotional and funny. Here, the instruments are a piano and cello that work beautifully on stage with the actors. Directors Marisa Echeverria and Hilary Thomas have thrown something new into the mix with this production at Lineage; dance. They’ve added a “Dancer Cathy” and a “Dancer Jamie”. I admit to thinking it may be distracting but I was happily proven wrong within minutes. In fact, the choreography and the intensity that both Michelle Kolb and Christopher Jones bring to the movement, enhances every emotion and actually gives voice to the character not seen in the scene. Nowhere was that more effective than in the song, “If I didn’t Believe in You”, that Jamie sings to Cathy, where you can actually see the emotional impact of his words.
The collaboration reminded me of shows done at Deaf West Theatre and I am convinced that a deaf audience could understand the plot based on these visceral performances. The looks of desire, of pain, of love and pure joy were beautifully and precisely expressed and gave an even deeper layer to the songs.
Not to give short shrift to the songs which are stellar and gut-wrenching. It’s a story about love; the risk of love, the giddiness of that leap of faith, the messiness and work of it and the devastating loss of it. Marisa Echeverria’s Cathy is sweet, funny and vulnerable, taking you in from her first glorious note. She has incredible range and control, giving her subtlety in her most emotional scenes and a soaring belt in her most angry and joyous moments. Paul Siemens as Jamie is a revelation. He looks like your best friend’s good looking, schoolteacher husband and then he just knocks you out with his performance and brings you to your knees with his sensitivity and ultimately his rationalizations. There isn’t a human alive who has not felt and been a part of what these two bring to the stage. Their chemistry is perfection and my heart literally pounded in my chest as they sang “Next Ten Minutes.” The shared joy felt in the audience at that moment is magic.
You have two weekends left to see this innovative, new interpretation of The Last Five Years
Music and Book by Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Marisa Echeverria and Hilary Thomas. Choreography by Hilary Thomas. Starring Marisa Echeverria, Chris Jones, Michelle Kolb, and Paul Siemens. Produced by Heather Connell
Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm June 3rd through 18th
Lineage Performing Arts Center – 89 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena CA 91105
Tickets and more info available at www.lineagepac.org/lastfiveyears Phone: 626-844-7008