BWW Review: Texas Light Opera Inagural Production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a Winner

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a 2001 off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown that took the author's own failed marriage to Theresa O'Neill as inspiration for this intimate yet powerful musical. It was also adapted into a film in 2015. The story is a look at the five-year relationship between Jamie Wellerstein, a rising novelist, and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress. Structurally, it is unique in that the story is not only mostly sung through, with just the barest of spoken dialogue, but also in how it tells the story from two different perspectives. Jamie (Joseph Urick) tells the story chronologically, while Cathy (Ginger Martel) tells the story backward. They only sing together once, during their wedding in the middle of the show. While the characters do sing together at the end, the songs are counterpoint to each other rather than both characters singing the same song. THE LAST FIVE YEARS is the inaugural tour being presented by ARIA Creative in association with the newly formed Texas Light Opera.

Director Jason Kruger has done a very nice job staging this piece in the round, using just a table and a chair. He clearly understands how to direct for theatre in the round and keeps the action moving so that all sides of the house had equal time with the actor's faces. Using canned orchestral tracks, music director Nicole Erwin gets great sound from both Urick and Martel, although there were some small moments of pitch problems that seem to be inherent in such tracks. It was extremely refreshing to see a musical where the performers sang full out without microphones. Sound designer Chuck Drew kept the balance between the tracks and the performances at a perfect volume.

The score consists of sixteen songs covering a wide variety of different musical genres, including pop, jazz, classical, klezmer, Latin, rock and folk. Each character has been given equal moments of comedic and dramatic musical numbers. Comedic highlights include "The Schmuel Song" sung as a teaching moment to Cathy by Jamie and the hilarious "A Summer in Ohio" sung by Cathy as she recounts the less than perfect summer she is having doing summer stock. Ginger Martel also does a marvelous job with "Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence" where she fluctuates between lamenting her stalled career and everything that is going on in her mind during a musical audition. The beautiful score doesn't have a wasted song in it, and the show itself is marvellously structured with great economy and simplicity.

Both Urick and Martel deliver winning and charming performances as Jamie and Cathy, respectively. Neither of these characters are free of blame in the failure of their marraige, and yet, they both managed to keep the audience rooting for them to somehow work things out. These two performances were perfectly matched and complimented each other nicely.

As an inaugural production, THE LAST FIVE YEARS offers us an encouraging glimpse at what great things may come from Texas Light Opera in the future.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS by Jason Robert Brown
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

THE LAST FIVE YEARS produced by Texas Light Opera and Aria Creative Productions at Emily Ann Theatre (1101 Ranch Road 2325, Wimberley, TX, 78676).
Performances were Friday March 2 and Saturday March 3 at 8 p.m. in the Burdine Johnson indoor theatre.
Tickets: General Admission $20
Student/Senior/Military/SATCO $15
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