Theatre - Same Theatre, Next Musical The Last 5 Years




Same Theatre, Next Musical


By Montague Gammon III

Close on the heels of the Virginia Stage Company’s well received Bruce Hornsby musical SCKBSTD, the company is staging The Last Five Years, also a musical but different in tone, size and intent.

It’s a two-character song cycle show, in a variety of contemporary musical styles with few spoken lines, that relates the rise and fall of a romance between young Jewish novelist Jamie Wellerstein and Roman Catholic actress Cathy Hyatt. Not only do the two characters approach their narratives from opposite points of view, but also in different chronologies.

Jamie tells his story conventionally, beginning immediately after their first meeting. Cathy’s version runs in reverse, starting with the end of their marriage—infidelity, and the stress of one career that is successful versus one that is not, doomed the partnership—and working back to when they met. Their narratives cross once during the 80-something-minute one act show, in a wedding duet.

Anyone who senses autobiography here is on the right track. The script is generally said to spring from the relationship of composer and writer Jason Robert Brown with Theresa O'Neill. Online sources say that O’Neill threatened to sue regarding the first version of the show, compelling changes that supposedly reduced art’s mimicry of life.

The most heartening element of this production is neither the frequent and favorable comparison made between the multi-talented Brown and the great Steven Sondheim, nor even the pair of Drama Desk awards the Off-Broadway version won in 2002 for Best Music and Best Lyrics, strong recommendations though all those are.

What makes The Last Five Years a must-see is the simple fact that VSC’s Associate Artistic Director Patrick Mullins is directing it.

Mullins is the ideal artist to set right, onstage, any hint of gimmickry in the structure of the script. He’s annually responsible for refreshing VSC’s Christmas Carol, infusing new ideas while keeping the show familiar. Most memorably, he directed another relationship play, VSC’s brilliant version of Romeo and Juliet, which brought Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers into the 21st Century of cell phone videos and text messages, while respecting everything that makes the original vital and important.

However you look at it, he’s the right director for The Last Five Years.

The Last 5 Years was written and composed by Jason Robert Brown. The production will be performed by the Virginia Stage Company at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk through March 13. Visit www.vastage.com/plays for more information.

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