BWW Review: The Studio Theatre's LAST FIVE YEARS Brings the Emotion
"If I didn't believe in you...." - Jamie
Joy. Pride. Jealousy. Sadness. Pain. These words and so much more describe the relationship between THE LAST FIVE YEARS' Jamie, an up-and-coming successful novelist, and Cathy, a struggling actress, as they navigate the story of falling in love, getting married, and then drifting apart. Jason Robert Brown's quintessential love-gone-wrong tale is performed wonderfully by Brian Zealand and Whitney Morse at the Village's Studio Theatre at Tierra Del Sol. The telling of this musical is interesting in its own right - Cathy tells the story from the end of their relationship, when she discovers that Jamie wants a divorce, while Jamie starts from the beginning when he meets Cathy and falls head over heels.
The Studio Theatre has done a wonderful job in the staging of this show and they set the mood well. The black-box-style theater is set up in a way that makes the two storyteller's sides completely distinguishable. At one point in the show, Jamie and Cathy meet in the middle of the storyline and at that point Zealand and Morse switch places and we see the rise and downfall of their relationship from the opposite point of view. Reading it here it may sound confusing, but set designer Kenneth Constant and Lighting Designer Dan Hopper's use of space, props and backgrounds truly made the two sides easy to follow.
The emotional range of actors Zealand and Morse is absolutely amazing. While this show has parts that are more happy, overall it's a deeply introspective and sad look at the trials that many relationships face. That's not to say that the people in those relationships are always best-selling novelists and struggling actors, but the themes presented in the musical are something that everyone in a relationship can identify with. Zealand and Morse do an outstanding job of portraying those emotions without going over the top. There were moments in the show where I disliked the characters of Jamie and Cathy, but I realized it was because of Zealand and Morse's superb acting skills that I was feeling this way and it was meant to be. After all, the audience can't root for Cathy later in the story if Jamie doesn't act like a self-absorbed jerk at one point, and we can't be happy for Cathy standing up for herself if we don't see the passive and helpless side to her. This tightrope can be a hard one to walk, and Zealand and Morse do a superb job of balancing it. As the audience, we experience their highs and lows together.
Vocally, THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a demanding show. There is barely any spoken dialogue - most of the story is told through song - and many of the songs call for high energy and vocal variations. Knowing this, I was pleased to find that Zealand and Morse were spot on and their voices never felt forceD. Brown's music can be tough - the songs are either subdued or belted out in pure joy. They're black and white, and this can be hard on an actor since they have to go to each extreme and can't just fall back and get comfortable in the middle. Zealand and Morse understood that and made each song their own. For instance, Jamie's "The Schmuel Song" is a happy, upbeat, inspirational ditty sung to Cathy to help motivate her to keep going in her career and keep her head up. In this song, Zealand dances around the stage, leaps for joy, get's on top of the furniture and really gets in to the part, all while keeping his voice intact and in perfect pitch. After seeing such an overjoyed Jamie in "The Schmuel Song," it's hard to believe this is the same actor who plays the demoralized, heartbroken, cold Jamie at the end of the show, with a subdued, dragging voice that seems to long for the Cathy he once knew, and the life he is leaving behind with her.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS is part of the Studio Theatre's inaugural season, and after seeing this show I can't wait to see what they'll do next! While I can't promise you'll leave the show wanting to sing out loud in joy, I can most definitely say this show leaves an impression that will keep you thinking, and humming some of the tunes, for quite some time.
So, did you enjoy THE LAST FIVE YEARS as well? Let me know! Don't forget to follow BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter by clicking below. You can also connect with me about this show and all things theatre by following me on Twitter @libbychamps.