"The Last Five Years"
There is no doubt that Jason Robert Brown is a brilliant writer and composer, a musician par excellence. His lyrics are etched, and up to a point his songs, very operatic, are melodic and interesting. I loved his musical tragedy, Parade.
Director Gordon Edelstein has brought Brown's 90-minute two character love story, The Last Five Years. to Long Wharf's Main Stage. However, while it is lovingly and creatively presented by two amazingly gifted performers on a rotating stage with clever touches (SET-Eugene Lee and LIGHTING Ben Stanton), problems abound. Those problems are similar to the ones I found in The Bridges of Madison County: a lack of connection between the lovers; shrieking finale songs that go on forever; an overly intellectual bent, where emotion should prevail.
Blond Katie Rose Clarke is Cathy, an aspiring actress, and dark-haired Adam Halpin, is Jamie, a struggling writer. The first problem is that the musical is a romance sung from beginning to end and end to beginning, and it is really difficult to follow. It begins at the end when Cathy receives a letter and a wedding ring from Jamie saying the marriage is over. “Still Hurting,” she sings, citing Jamie's decision angrily, while removing her wedding ring and bracelet/watch. It ends badly and sadly.
Now the action jumps back to their first date 5 years before. Jamie, who is Jewish, bursts out with “Shiksa Goddess,” an amusing ditty about how thrilled he is to have found a girl who is not Jewish. This number seems like a waste. Trouble is, he doesn't enumerate Cathy's strong points that made him love her, which would have made a more convincing love story. The next scene takes place in Ohio, where Cathy is acting in a show. Jamie has come to visit, but doesn't stay but for a day; he is completely wrapped up in his burgeoning career. The pier on a river where they meet looks like a cute footbath.
23 year old Jamie, whose career is skyrocketing, fears he is “Moving Too Fast,” moving in with Cathy, while Cathy is trying desperately to get an acting job and not resent her future husband's success. Scene 6 is a strange departure. “The Schmuel Song,” a rambling story he has invented about the Tailor of Klimovich, is performed by Jamie in front of Cathy and a Xmas tree topped with a large Star of David. He then hands her a gift -- a watch, the same one that she took off her wrist in the first scene.
Cathy's humorous song entitled “A Summer in Ohio,” is a letter to Jamie, describing the various characters she is dealing with, including her roommate, “a former stripper and her snake.” Scene 8 is a marriage proposal trip on the lake in NY'S Central Park, where they seem to be in sync, followed by a long solo in which Jamie sings about his frustrations resisting Temptation. It seems everyone is attracted to him and he can't touch them. “And I have to say that what exacerbates the problem is I am at these parties, I'm the center of attention, I'm the grand fromage, (The great cheese).........and then there's Cathy!”
Book readings and a lack of understanding between them cause a schism in Cathy and Jamie's marriage that can not be repaired. Yet do we really care? James Sampliner is a passionate music director of some fine musicians. The Last Five Years has some excellent moments, but in the end it is disappointing. At Long Wharf through June 1.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO