BWW Reviews: Long Wharf Looks Back at THE LAST FIVE YEARS

BWW Reviews: Long Wharf Looks Back at THE LAST FIVE YEARS

To quote Tennessee Williams, "Time is the longest distance between two places." This statement is clearly illustrated in the musical, The Last Five Years, now playing at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. It is a brilliant production directed by Long Wharf's Artistic Director, Gordon Edelstein and stars Broadway's Katie Rose Clarke and Adam Halpin.

At the beginning of the show, we meet a couple, Kathy and Jamie, who over the course of their five-year history have grown as far apart as any two people can. Their sad tale is told in opposite timelines. Kathy's tale is told in reverse, from the brokenhearted end of the relationship and moving backward to the hopeful start, while Jamie's story starts at their first date and chronologically weaves a tale of love that gradually unravels until there is nothing left.

Written and composed by Tony Award nominee Jason Robert Brown, Kathy and Jamie's story is told entirely through a contemporary score. It is a brilliant concept, where each song is a key to explaining how a couple so in love could end up as disparate strangers. Under the musical direction of James Sampliner, Kathy and Jamie not only tell their story, but also convey their deepest emotions through comedic show-tunes and heartbreakingly beautiful ballads.

The set design by Eugene Lee is brilliant. The simple set has two separate doors through which the characters enter and exit, and even though they are both onstage throughout the entire show, they never really occupy the same space until their storylines overlap. Mr. Lee takes the time theme even further by utilizing a moving clock as the stage floor. It is interesting to watch the turntable move in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction depending on where the characters are in their narrative.

It would be easy to play armchair psychologist and try to discover the reason why Kathy and Jamie's relationship did not work. It could be the fact that Jamie seemed more enamored with the idea of a non-Jewish wife (Shiksa Goddess,) or that he was a man on the fast track to success (Moving too Fast,) while Kathy could not find her place standing in Jamie's spotlight (A Part of That,) or that she never found success herself (Ohio.)

Whatever the reason for the characters splitting, the two actors portray them superbly. Adam Halpin is endearing as the young, ambitious author hungry for success and the good things in life. His up-tempo songs and energetic performance are infectious. As his storyline nears the end, his performance becomes more somber and grounded. While his character did not gain my sympathy, his performance reflected a sad kind of maturity that comes with loss.

I was amazed by Katie Rose Clarke's performance. She is a powerful soprano, and as she sang some of Kathy's ballads, I was stunned by not only the beauty of her voice, but by the technical ability to sustain some of the notes in the score. She is also surprisingly funny venting Kathy's frustration about having to be on tour in Ohio while Jamie is still in New York, leading me to think that she is a consummate performer who can take on any role.

If you are looking for a happy ending, this is not the show for you. But if what you want out of musical theater are superb performances, a beautiful score, and thought provoking themes, you will not be disappointed with The Last Five Years. The show runs through June 1st at Long Wharf Theatre. Visit Long Wharf Theatre or call (203) 787-4282 for tickets.

Photo: Adam Halpin and Katie Rose Clarke; Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

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