BWW Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS Portrays the Realities of Romance at Merrick Theatre & Center For The Arts

BWW Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS Portrays the Realities of Romance at Merrick Theatre & Center For The ArtsThe Merrick Theatre & Center For the Arts continues its 2017-2018 season with the intimate love story, "The Last Five Years," running until January 28.

The two-person, song cycle musical tells the story of the romantic relationship between two New Yorkers - Cathy, an aspiring actress, and Jamie, a novelist of the verge of a success - over a five-year period. While Jamie's songs progress chronologically, Cathy's proceed in reverse - thus giving audiences a unique perspective into the growth and ultimate destruction of their relationship.

From the moment the six-piece orchestra - situated on the stage, amongst countless moving boxes and props - releases its first chords, it is clear the audience is in for a treat. The show features music by Jason Robert Brown - best known for "Songs For a New World," "Parade," and the teen hit "13" - at his finest.

Rather than being limited by recorded tracks - which many community theaters use due to financial and spatial restraints - the talented orchestra brings the production to professional caliber. The ballads are even more heart-wrenching with the melancholy notes produced by the cellos and violins while the pop selections are enhanced by live guitar and bass - all led under the direction of the invaluable Anthony Brindisi, whose professional credits include the national tour of "A Christmas Story: The Musical" and off-broadway's "Friends: The Musical."

The voices of the show - Emily Edwards as Cathy and John Hannigan as Jamie - are equally impressive.

BWW Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS Portrays the Realities of Romance at Merrick Theatre & Center For The ArtsMs. Edwards, recently seen on the Merrick stage as The Witch in "Into the Woods," gives much depth with her quirky portrayal of a young woman who is struggling in her career and personal life. She shines most brightly with character-driven songs like "A Summer in Ohio" - delivering amusing lyrics that cheekily mourns the character's summer stock experience - and "Climbing Uphill" - which portrays the thoughts that every aspiring actress has had while auditioning at some point in their career. Her belt and overall range is fantastic and she shows clear emotional comprehension of the material she is performing. Unfortunately some of her softer songs - like the show's opening number, "Still Hurting," - sounded muffled. However it appeared to be due to Ms. Edwards' microphone rather than her projection.

Mr. Hannigan - making his Merrick debut - gives a performance that would convince many that the part was written for him. Performing vocal somersaults, he brings down the house with exhilarating numbers like "Moving Too Fast" - where Jamie finds out his book is getting published - and "A Miracle Would Happen" - which could be considered a national anthem for newly married men facing sexual temptation. However, the more subdued, softer "If I Didn't Believe in You" - in which Jamie finally confronts Cathy about the tension surrounding his success and her failures - is one of the most poignant moments in the show due to Hannigan's dramatic talents.

Although the concept of the show appears exceedingly simple on paper, director Brad Seidman pushes creative boundaries by having the actors utilize moving boxes - which could easily symbolize the characters moving in and out of their relationship - that contain all of the shows props and become various set pieces throughout the show - a boat in Central Park, a bed in the couple's apartment, and more. Nicholas Cariello's set also features a wall of larger than life polaroid photos that document key moments in the show and in the couple's life that light up during those scenes. While one date written on a polaroid was off chronologically in terms of how the show unfolds, it was still an extremely creative element of the show.

I would implore Long Island audiences to make the trip - no matter what weather may greet us in the coming weeks - to see this innovative production teeming to the brim with talent both onstage and off.

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"The Last Five Years" is presented by the Merrick Theatre & Center For the Arts through January 28. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 516-868-6400 or visit www.merrick-theatre.com/home

Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Brad Seidman, Musical Direction by Anthony Brindisi, Stage Managed by Chris Damp. Set Design by Nicholas Cariello. Sound Design by Jessie Barenzano. Assistant Sound Design by Chris Damp. Lighting Design by Nicholas Cariello. Assistant Lighting Design by Chris Damp. Produced by Joe Mauro.

Orchestra:

Piano/Conductor - Anthony Brindisi

Guitar - Eitan Prowser

Violin - Michael Brennan

Cello 1 - Andrew Albani

Cello 2 - Tiffany Jordan-Anderson

Bass - Peter Averso

Starring: Emily Edwards as Catherine Hiatt and John Hannigan as Jamie Wellerstein

Photo Credit: Abbey Nash Slawitsky

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