BWW Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS Brings Love to New Heights at CCTC
Think about what is means to fall in love, and all that it takes to reach that very moment you know it's true. Think of all of the memories that were once single moments enjoyed to the fullest, brought together to mold what the present is. Now think of it slowly slipping away: those happy moments testimony of a failing relationship instead of heartfelt times to be remembered. What would you give to know why?
This is the story of Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years: a show of moments, told from two different perspectives and happening in opposite orders that now graces the stage in a way never before attempted: the two actors accompany each other on the piano, creating a show that audiences are absolutely going to love.
The Last Five Years, starring Kevin Quill as Jamie (who also directs) and Broadway's Sarah Killough as Cathy, opened this past weekend at the Cape Cod Theatre Company (home of the Harwich Junior Theatre). With book, music and lyrics all written by Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, Parade), The Last Five Years was the winner of the 2002 Drama Desk Award and was also recently made into the film starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. The musical chronicles the five-year relationship between Cathy, an aspiring actress and Jamie, a promising author, from meeting to breakup and from breakup to meeting in New York City. While Jamie's story is told in chronological order, Cathy's begins at the end of the couple's failed relationship, their wedding day being the single time they meet. With songs like "Moving Too Fast" and "See I'm Smiling," The Last Five Years is much more intimate a musical as you are likely to ever see, allowing the audience not just a glimpse into but the actual progression of something that is so important but also so, so fleeting: love.
Quill not only came up with the concept of "two performers, four hands" but as director has created something more symbolically beautiful, adding to the already visceral beauty oF Brown's musical. Cathy and Jamie begin the show by playing together the haunting, almost carnival-esque melody that both introduces and bids farewell to these characters at the musical's start and finish, and from that moment does is something ingenious done with this show. There is very little interaction on stage between Cathy and Jamie, their stories being told more so to the audience than the actual person the words are meant for. Quill and Killough sing as if the other person was there listening next to them and indeed they are, but they are not of the same moment; they are not listening at all. The characters aren't even isolated to a certain part of the stage to represent "Jamie" or "Cathy" but even share the space of the entire stage, again reinforcing how poignant this story of ultimate breakup truly is. Quill even makes use of levels, something most likely never done with this show, to show the gradually conflicting thoughts related to the idea of Cathy.
It is almost eerie to watch and therefore that much more powerful in light of what the story is about. These characters share everything together: the same stage, the same piano, even the same life, but the fact that they can't even communicate face to face on stage really creates such depth to this show; it is amazing to watch what a new idea can bring to something already established.
The Last Five Years requires no fancy staging, set or basically anything "showy" to make it one of the most emotional shows to be seen on stage. As part of the audience, you honestly just take in everything that is happening as Cathy and Jamie bare open their hearts while at the same time moving the story forward (or backward); all you want to do is just reach out and stop the downward spiral of their romance. While Jamie struggles to lead a new life as a published author, his wife is slowly becoming disheartened by both her own failed dreams. One of my favorite lines in this show is when Jamie, after proclaiming how he has tried to love Cathy the best he can, blatantly says "I will not fail because you can't win."
Tell me that's not one powerful statement.
With the concept of each actor playing piano as the main means of communication comes other very interesting effects on the rest of the show. For example, the transitions Quill and Killough make on the piano when one character must stop and move over to sing his or next song work wonders to further the story in a more sensual way than one would think. As one character rises from the piano bench to sing again, the other simply takes over, reinforcing this idea of these two sharing everything - even some of the same notes being played to finish one song and move on to the next.
There are moments in the show, such as that haunting beginning and concluding melody, where Cathy and Jamie so perfectly sit there together, and the image of these two in the same physical position in both instances but in a completely different mental stage between the two is just something amazing. At the very end when Cathy is saying goodbye (but only "until tomorrow") and Jamie is letting their relationship dwindle down to its final thread, there is a wonderful moment when Quill hovers near the piano, puts down his bag and then sits down to play those few haunting notes with Killough, just before the lights fade; again, one of my favorite moments. The piano is like the hearth around which both characters come to for the safety and security of their relationship, and the way it brings them together while they fall apart is just so beautiful.
Killough is just a boulder of talent on that stage, with everything from an absolutely beautiful voice to her facial expressions that are essentially what make Cathy not only so present a character, but so real as an actual person. Quill has many wonderful poignant moments on that stage, giving the rock-edge to his voice a rest while singing some more somber songs that he does so well to bring emotion to. For example, there is a moment towards the end of the show during "Nobody Needs to Know" when he lies in bed with another woman, one whom he has developed a strong affection for, and tells her it's best they get up, only to succumb towards the song's end and simply returns to bed. It is one of the most fascinating moments to me not only because of how well it is done, how emotionally isolated Jamie has become, but because of how sad it is - it is a moment when you truly stop and just listen.
Quill can bring that affectionate side of his character out so well - a character that is not incredibly sympathetic to begin with but who struggles to love and support Cathy as best he can against her at time warring nature. He really is quite talented, and it is a pleasure to watch him perform this role. Credit must also go to both for simply performing so well Brown's notoriously wordy and difficult music.
So, I loved this production of The Last Five Years. As simple as a change Quill has made, it really makes for a beautifully emotional show that everyone needs to go and see. As Cathy says about Jamie, come see Quill "invent the world that passes [him] by." You won't be disappointed.
In association with Fear Town Productions, The Last Five Years opened Friday evening and will only one weekend more at the Cape Cod Theatre Company (home of the Harwich Junior Theatre), located at 105 Division Street in West Harwich. Performances will be held on Fridays and Saturdays only, the remaining dates of August 19th and 20th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 ($15 if under 21) and may be purchased by going over to the box office in person, by calling (508) 432.2002 or by visiting capecodtheatrecompany.org; you may choose your own seats through the interactive seating chart if ordering online.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Kevin Quill