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Review: THE LAST 5 YEARS is a Visionary Masterpiece at Syracuse Stage

Review: THE LAST 5 YEARS is a Visionary Masterpiece at Syracuse Stage
Ken Wulf Clark and Hanley Smith in the Syracuse Stage production of
The Last Five Years. Photo by Michael Davis.

A stunning, visionary, and thought-provoking production of Jason Robert Brown's Drama Desk Award-winning musical, The Last 5 Years, is now delighting audiences at Syracuse Stage. The production is directed by none other than Jason Alexander, who is, of course, best known for his role in the television series Seinfeld. Alexander's vision results in a production that is refreshing, captivating, and brilliant. This production stands out from others because Alexander cast four actors rather than the traditional two. There is also the incomparable score by the brilliant Jason Robert Brown that is a delight to the ears.

The musical is comprised of fourteen chilling and magnificent songs by Jason Robert Brown, all of which take center stage as this is a musical that has basically no standard book scenes with dialogues. Brown draws from many genres. There is little bit of jazz, classical, folk, and pop music popping out throughout the strong score. Each song is beautifully brought to life by the orchestra under the musical direction of Brian Cimmet.

The songs follow a five-year romance between an aspiring actress named Cathy and a writer named Jamie. The two lovers meet, flirt, fall in love, get married, and face struggles as both have certain dreams that take a tole on their relationship. The ordering of the songs makes this show unique - and far different than your standard love story of boy meets girl. The story is told from Jamie's point of view from the beginning to the end and at the same time Cathy tells the story from the end to the beginning.

Jason Alexander received permission from Jason Robert Brown to use a cast of four rather than the standard cast of two. With the cast of four there is Cathy (Hanley Smith) and Jamie (Ken Wulf Clark) along with shadows of themselves where the shadow actors present most of the emotional choreography by Lee Martino. The shadow versions of Cathy (Marisa Field) and Jamie (Adrian Lee) execute most of Lee Martino's emotional choreography step and allow Alexander's vision to take flight and present "a production where it did not matter if time was moving forward or backward because each song was necessary in the order it was presented for purely emotional reasons" (Playbill Director's note).

It is pure magic to watch four actors move through the story and score in unison. All of them are learning, dancing, and searching together trying to realize their dreams when, in fact, not all dreams come to be. Alexander's visionary idea along with John Iacovelli's flawless, unique, and sweeping scenic design makes this one of the most breathtaking and unique productions to have graced the stage at Syracuse Stage. Iacovelli's set features a turn table (that Martino leverages quite nicely with the choreography) and easy movable structures. Driscoll Otto's lighting and projections also emphasize and heighten the emotional aspects of the story.

The understudies for the roles of Cathy (Carly Caviglia) and Jamie (Sam Swinnerton) even have a chance at times to step on stage in costume to move some of the set pieces.

The image of the shadow Cathy (Marisa Field) and shadow Jamie (Adrian Lee) on stage with Cathy (Hanley Smith) and Jamie (Ken Wulf Clark) during solo numbers is especially raw and riveting.

Ken Wulf Clark is magnificent in the role of Jamie, fully capturing the hardworking, determined, energetic, oblivious, yet cool guy. He delivers a lively and entertaining rendition "Shiksa Goddess," a comedic "Moving Too Fast," and an animated take "The Schmuel Song" that is even more entertaining than usual thanks to the choreography and costumes by Christina Selian. His vocals on "A Miracle Would Happen" are spot on and radiate power. His standout moment on opening night would have to be the emotional and powerful number "If I Didn't Believe in You." "Nobody Needs to Know" proved to be a favorite as well because it was so raw and real.

Hanley Smith captures every attribute of Cathy - her charm, spunk, energy, beauty, and her faults. The effortless power and expression in her voice makes numbers such as "Still Hurting," "See, I'm Smiling," and "I'm a Part of That" incredibly moving and emotional. Smith's charm and spunk make "A Summer in Ohio," "Climbing Uphill," and "I Can Do Better Than That" really memorable. Smith's powerhouse Broadway belt soars throughout.

Clark and Smith steal the show with "The Next Ten Minutes" along with the shadow versions of themselves. "Goodbye Until Tomorrow/ I Could Never Rescue You" is chilling as well.

Marisa Field as Shadow Cathy and Adrian Lee as Shadow Jamie provide a unique contribution to the show - their inclusion allows this already intriguing story to be understood in a very different and interesting way. Field's grace, radiance, and beauty - and her stunning dance - capture the young Cathy that Jamie fall for, while Lee's charm, power, and energetic dancing beautifully explain what Cathy did, in fact, see in Jamie.

Jason Alexander's direction of The Last 5 Years is powerful, moving, and results in, without a doubt, an artistic visionary masterpiece. The cast, the set, the lighting, the costumes, the direction, the music, and the orchestra all come together to create this flawless and emotionally powerful production. Do not miss your chance to see this artistic interpretation of Jason Robert Brown's The Last 5 Years at Syracuse Stage.

Running time: Approximately one hour and twenty-five minutes with no intermission.

The Last 5 Years runs through June 16, 2019 at Syracuse Stage, located at 820 E. Genesee Street, Syracuse, New York. For tickets and information on this production and other upcoming productions at Syracuse Stage, click here.

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Natasha Ashley has been a reviewer for Broadway World for quite a few years covering numerous productions throughout Central New York. She was born and raised in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York. ... (read more about this author)

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