Eighty minutes of this reworking of the musical with a strong cult following only seemed like “The Last Five Years,” all the while singing “Melancholy Baby.”
When the lights go up we see Cathy curled like an abused puppy singing that she is “covered in scars I didn’t earn.” This opening scene creates the mood for the rest of the show.
Jason Robert Brown has structured “The Last Five Years” so that Cathy tells her version of the story in reverse from the end of her relationship with Jamie to her first date with him.
Then we go back five years and meet Jamie. He tells his side of the story from his first date with Cathy to their breakup. We meet Jamie singing the upbeat “Shiksa Goddess.”
Had he not just been set up by Cathy’s song “Still Hurting,” he would come off as a charming, funny guy; but due to her song he appears to be insensitive and shallow. Someone who later on won’t even stay with his wife on her birthday.
If you jump ahead to the end of the show, we find Jamie in bed with another woman while Cathy, five years younger, smiles in optimistic innocence looking to the future with Jamie. Once again Jamie has been placed in a no win situation.
In between the story is told through a series of solo numbers. We learn that both are ambitious and seek success in creative and glamorous careers that promise big paychecks and fame.
He is a writer and she is an actress. Suddenly his career takes off, but her career is not happening. Instead of being happy for Jamie’s success Cathy is frustrated and resentful. Jamie is confused by her reaction.
It is hard to feel empathy for them as a couple because her backward version intersects with his forward tale only once on their wedding day. During the retelling of their life together we see “memories” of Jamie and Cathy as moving shadows on an elevated screen behind the singers.
These shadows are portrayed by dancers Daniel Johnson and Macy Reyes.
Of course the real test of a relationship is sharing the good times and surviving the pitfalls as a couple together. When we piece together the actual chronological time line of Jamie and Cathy’s relationship, we see Cathy’s growing envy of Jamie’s success and her frustration over her stalled career.
While Jamie is on a whirlwind press junket to publicize his book, Cathy is performing summer stock in Ohio which she compares to a “root canal in hell.” Jamie urges her not to give up and to take a chance, but any of his attempts to encourage his wife fall on deaf ears.
A resentful Cathy is seen behind an ironing board refusing to join “Jamieland.” Cathy’s jealousy drives a wedge between her and her husband. Jamie finally sings that it is over, it is done, and he won’t fail for her.
Both Kate Bowman and Juan Lozano have a strong stage presence. Due to the structure of the play, they do not have intimate moments together. Each actor really gives a solo performance.
The result is that both singers go for the “big” moment and lack the subtlety that a duet would have created when singing about their marital problems. At times I felt they both sang too loudly for the small space. The production is moving to the main stage, so this may not be of concern in the larger theater.
Kristen Boule, the director has a fine sense of the space she is dealing with and moves the actors well. I think she could have encouraged a wider range of vocal interpretation to capture the nuance of a song’s emotional lyric.
For instance, when Jamie loudly sings “Please” in a yet another frustrated attempt to get Cathy to understand his feelings, it might be interesting to hear a softer plea to show a Jamie who is becoming resigned to Cathy’s resentment and is about to weep over the loss of his wife.
I did not find the songs to be particularly memorable.
“Shiksa Goddess” with its salsa like beat is the best tune. Cathy, in rare upbeat moment, sings “Summer in Ohio” which is very funny. Unfortunately most of Cathy’s songs are tiresome, with lyrics like, “I’m crying and you do nothing at all.”
Jamie’s repeated, and repeated, attempts to encourage Cathy are ignored by her. The live band, led by Morgan Fitch on keyboard, featuring Lydia Reinech on violin and Larry Briner, was fine and give the show a nice pacing; but at times the singers drown them out.
Since its premiere a little over a decade ago, Jason Robert Brown’s musical “The Last Five Years” has developed a cult following. There was a definite pre-show buzz of excitement in the audience.
I heard several people say that they were returning for the second time and others knew the score by heart. The audience applauded enthusiastically throughout the show. On the other hand, at the play’s end I knew the optimistic, smiling Cathy standing there would reject her husband because she was jealous of his fame.
Next to her, the somber, unhappy Jamie realized his marriage was over because he could not share his success with the woman he loved. I did not leave the theater humming the tunes.
“The Last Five Years,” or at least the musical’s “last 80 minutes,” made me feel like a melancholy marriage counselor.
WHERE: Hudson Guild Theater (main stage) 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood CA 90038
WHEN: October 11-20, 2012. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.
ADMISSION: $18 Show length 80 minutes
RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-5521
ONLINE TICKETING: www.Plays411.com/fiveyears