Everyone can look at a relationship, be it romantic or otherwise, and analyze every minute of it. Impressions of the relationship vary depending on who’s recalling it and what point in time they’re thinking of. Case in point: The Last Five Years, a two-person musical that chronicles both sides of a five-year relationship. The show was recently adapted into a movie starring Anna Kendrick, but of course it’s always better to see something live and Front Porch Theatricals just opened their new production.
The show is entirely sung-through: consecutive songs serve as different vignettes of this couple’s time together. The hook is these characters are going through their history in opposite directions: the male, Jamie, starts at the beginning while his wife, Cathy, starts at the end of their five years together. The two are usually onstage at the same time but never interact directly, each living in their own world and miming to other characters. The exception is a sweet moment in the middle that falls on their wedding day.
The show develops these two characters and focuses on many issues that can drive a wedge between people. One of the biggest wedges is Cathy’s struggling and mostly fruitless acting career compared to Jamie, who found success as a writer at the early age of twenty-three. This resentment builds in Cathy and is one of the driving forces in their breakdown. While Cathy is resentful, Jamie seems unable to understand why. As in life, neither are purely innocent or guilty in the way they handle things.
However, I’ll just go ahead and side with Cathy here. It’s hard to feel sorry for Jamie: he finds “success” right out of college, is unable to understand his girlfriend’s (later wife’s) struggles, and his first number after the wedding is about how women throw themselves at him now that he’s married. Oh poor you. I was pleased with the direction of the show because Cathy, who I sympathized with, evolved (or devolved?) into a younger, happier girl as the show went backwards for her. Conversely, I liked watching Jamie’s life suck more as it went on. By the end I was sort of happy this relationship didn’t work out; I felt like she could do better and he probably had it coming. But of course, like when friends you know break up, you can form your own opinions on that.
Front Porch puts this show on after last year’s stellar Parade and the shows share the same composer in Jason Robert Brown. Like Parade, the score for Five Years is fantastic: songs range from upbeat and poppy to somber ballads with beautiful lyrics. Cathy’s auditioning montage “Climbing Uphill” is hilarious and earnest, while Jamie’s following number “If I Didn’t Believe in You” is especially poignant and the most sympathetic moment from him.
Erin Lindsey Krum and David Toole play the couple in question. Both performers have awesome singing voices and respectable stamina, running around and nailing all their vocals for the whole ninety-minute show. Ms. Krum as Cathy starts with songs full of reflection on the end of the relationship. Her pleading number “See I’m Smiling” captures the awful awkwardness of realizing that something great is ending. Mr. Toole is a talented singer and enjoys tearing into the songs, although his penchant for fun vocals tends to cut into his performance a bit. Jamie at the beginning is understandably excited about what’s happening in his life, but it comes across as cockiness and blatant bragging that ultimately makes him unlikable (see above; “happy they broke up”).
The staging and the set follow a very thorough “time” theme. The stage itself is a round clock complete with numbers on it. Whoever is performing on the right side of the clock is in the end of the relationship, while the person on the left is singing in the beginning (naturally, they switch sides in the middle). Whenever the non-singing character circles the stage they move in a way to reflect their timeline; Cathy walks counter-clockwise while Jamie goes clockwise. It’s a nice touch, but the clock theme tends to hit you over the head a bit if you already know how the story is progressing. That being said, the attaching scenery worked really nicely and it was all complimented with some fun lighting that made each piece its own unique number.
Front Porch continues a strong run of Jason Robert Brown works with The Last Five Years. It’s a great piece with a very real look at what can go wrong in a relationship, and lets the audience form their own opinions about it. Add some great songs and beautiful voices and you’ve got a very entertaining evening. Thankfully we don’t have to wait another year to see more from them, because Front Porch has a production of The Light in the Piazza coming up in August.
The Last Five Years
Presented by Front Porch Theatricals @ The New Hazlett Theater
Directed by Scott P. Calhoon
Music Direction by Deana Muro
Written by Jason Robert Brown
Designed by Scott P. Calhoon (scenery), Kim Brown (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Angela Baughman (sound)
Starring Erin Lindsey Krom (Cathy) and David Toole (Jamie)
The show runs this Thursday-Sunday, the 28th-31st. Tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: Sunday, May 24, 2015