Last Five Years – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Relationships are tricky business as two individuals learn the intricate steps to becoming a couple. Their dance of new footwork may be graceful or awkward or bittersweet as they learn together. The initial “hellos” may be easy but the ultimate “goodbyes” are clearly not. Goodbyes may be tinged with regrets for words not spoken or deeds not done. There is a finality to a goodbye that denotes sadness and an ending. For Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein, the scenes of their relationship are poignant and tender thanks to Jason Robert Brown’s intriguing take on a marriage that fails in his musical offering “The Last Five Years.” The Legacy Theatre in Branford will be presenting all the missed opportunities and mistaken steps in this couple’s search for love and happiness until Sunday, September 26.

Unfortunately we are not gifted with a crystal ball or hindsight. We learn our lessons the hard way, first hand. Cathy is a struggling actress wannabe and Jamie is a budding novelist and they meet on equal and common ground, both striving to succeed, as they each try to find their voice. Tess Adams is Cathy, an ambitious looking ahead with hope and promise gal who tells their story from the ending to the beginning while Emmett Cassidy’s Jamie starts at the beginning when everything is fresh and new and travels five years to the unhappy ending when they part.

Jason Robert Brown uses his own failed marriage as a starting point to tell the tale, with tuneful messages couched in every verse, from Jamie’s exuberant “Shiksa Goddess” all the way to the tearful “I Could Never Rescue You.” Cathy expresses her feelings and doubts in such songs as “Still Hurting” and “See I’m Smiling.” As Jamie’s career launches straight to the stars with a best selling novel, Cathy continually hits roadblocks with auditions that don’t work, landing in far away Ohio to get a role. Their separations take a toll and they lose the joys that once brought them together.

With honesty and only a little name calling and blame, the pair examine their wrong turns and mistakes. Didn’t they believe in themselves or each other enough? Did they move too fast in trying to make it work? The expectancy of new love is all too soon eclipsed by recriminations as a whole gamut of emotions characterize their musical tribute to the time. The music beautifully captures all the exact moments where love blooms and fades, from first date and Jamie’s reluctance to tell his mother that Cathy doesn’t share their religious background to his wildly successful book signing and pressures of fame to Cathy’s angst at not getting the roles she hoped for, their first Christmas, to the time of farewell when they admit it is not working. Keely Baisden Knudsen directs this refreshingly candid look at love.

For tickets ($45-75), call the Legacy Theatre, 128 Thimble Islands Road, Stony Creek Branford at 203-315-1901 or online at LegacyTheatreCT.org. Performances are Wednesday at 7 p.m, Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Now is the time to sign up for theater classes for children and adults for the fall and also to reserve tickets for the holiday show December 1-12 of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Come watch two fine actors showcase their talents in this intimate and heartfelt tale of romance on a merry-go-round that spins out of control with no brass ring for either one.

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