BWW Reviews: FLiP! Theatre Co.'s THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a He Said, She Said Masterpiece
Everyone has a love story. Here's mine. In the fall of 2007, I met who I quickly thought was the man of my dreams--let's just call him Andy--and he lived in my dorm freshman year. People knew him for his charm, good looks and overwhelming sass. He brought a James Dean cool to our little Colorado dorm life and he made my heart an Olympic gymnast. That was Andy. He was everything I thought I wanted, so much so, that I moved across the country to be near him in Minnesota. When I arrived to town, I was floating on cloud nine, and he was miles away in Andyland. Throughout the years, we never quite figured it out and ultimately it just fizzled out. Our relationship is unforgettable and sometimes when I think back I realize that I'm still hurting.
Like I said before, everyone has a love story, which is why everyone can relate to this show. But this is not about my love story or your own love story, this is about Cathy and Jamie and THE LAST FIVE YEARS. This is about their love story.
It's been a little over 10 years since Jason Robert Brown's two-character musical about the beginning and ending of a relationship was produced, and it's the beginning of a biting cold Monday evening when I find myself in the Minneapolis Theatre Garage for FLiP! Theatre Co.'s debut production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS.
Sipping on a warm "caramel" cider, I patiently wait for the show to begin. I'm excited but mainly I'm just nervous---I've been listening to this soundtrack for as long as the show has been alive and yet, I've never really seen a stage production I enjoyed aside from the original. There was always something wrong. Either it was the staging, or there was a wonky voice, or Jamie and Cathy weren't exactly a believable couple (meaning someone clearly looked as though they settled) but from the first few chords of this production, I knew this night would be different.
The story for those who haven't been obsessed with the soundtrack like myself and others is a musical about two twenty-somethings, Cathy (Britta Ollmann) and Jamie (Bobby Gardner) who fall in love and out of love in--you guessed it--five years. The only thing is, instead of it traveling through time in a linear function, Cathy tells us the story in reverse and Jamie chronologically. Rarely do the two interact on stage except for one fleeting moment where their stories collide. From it's conception there has been constant banter about whether the soundtrack is actually the best part of this show, and that without the beautifully written songs is the show even that great? The answer for me is, who cares! Most of the musical is sung anyway.
The two leads are tremendous. Britta Ollmann's portrayal of Cathy is unquestionably stunning. She manages to find the beauty in softness and stillness--detailing her songs with subtlety and micro-moments that color each lyric impeccably. Her voice resonates through the room during "See I'm Smiling," her comedic prowess is in full force during "A Summer in Ohio" and she shines in the opening song, "Still Hurting" offering very little movement but commanding the attention of everyone in the room. Ollmann is a treasure and unlike many Cathy's before offers tiny changes to the score that make it personal and allows us to remove ourselves from the soundtrack we know and love so much.
Bobby Gardner is a nicely selected match for Ollmann. He is boisterous and sings with an ineffable intensity. He makes Jamie "that guy" and it's understandable that despite Jamie being self-absorbed and really not that great of a guy--you like him. He teeters on that fine line wonderfully, never falling too much to one side or the other.
Since the show is so highly criticized, both general direction and musical direction are critical. John Lynn knocks it out of the park. His vision is clear and well executed by the entire team. Our eyes go where they need to and never get caught up in the transitions or other various happenings around the stage. Bravo, Lynn! The band is lead by music director, Jason Hansen and barrel through the score from beginning to end with tenacity. Bringing to fruition the score I'm sure I wasn't the only one singing along with in my head.
Lingering in the lobby and sipping on the final drops of delicious "caramel" cider provided to me yet completely ignored for 90-minutes, my ears perk up as I listen to the rumbles of conversation around the room. And one comment in particular resonates with me.