BWW Review: TheatreLAB And Yes, And's THE LAST FIVE YEARS Stays With You
*Review written by Brent Deekens
To consider a minimalist interpretation of this musical by Jason Robert Brown - something in the vein of, say, THE FANTASTICKS or SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD (also composed by Brown)- is a very conceivable notion. This show, which features only two characters and has no particular set requirements, can be easily produced by any amateur or up-and-coming Production Company with the bare minimum in terms of production value and music apparati.
Thus it is this reviewer's exultant onus to relay that in the case of TheatreLAB and Yes, And's production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS, director Chelsea Burke and her team have pulled out all of the stops to give the audience an unforgettable experience, with the technical follow-through and musical polish to rival any production that has ever been mounted. And these generous qualities are symbiotically aligned with the equally powerful presence of actors Christie Jackson and Alexander Sapp. It's just that freaking good.
Almost entirely sung, the show is presented with two almost-completely partitioned perspectives. In one parallel, the story moves forwards in time with Jamie: a young, handsome novelist who is suddenly finding big-time success in the world of publishing. And in the other parallel the story moves backwards in time with Jamie's lover, Cathy: a lovely and endearing actress who ardently tries at success in New York City but just can't quite seem to make that big break. This story, partly based on autobiographical elements from Brown's own life, is broken down into scenes by song - a single scene is given what is essentially a monologue in song. A couple of scenes also feature duets and counterpoint.
Without giving away any major spoilers, a newcomer to this musical may benefit from a modest breakdown of this irresistible story concept before the start of the show.
And what a show they have at "The Basement"! The actors are flanked by production elements that, in and of themselves, miraculously become supporting characters. John-Steward Fauquet's evocative six piece orchestra gives the characters subtext and, at moments, foreshadowing into future (or past) events. Emily Atkins' precise costumes are conservatively bright and vibrant during the characters' tranquil and contented times, but turn darker and bleaker during their more disconsolate moments. This same attention to color also goes for Michael Jarett's precise light design. Matt Shofner's inspired set, which immerses the audience in two opposing tiers directly across from one another, acts as a metaphor. The metaphor is a journey: a journey with its logical beginning, middle, and possible end.
Which, incidentally, is exactly how each scene and its subsequent song are set up - there's a beginning, middle, and an end. And Ms. Jackson and Mr. Sapp dissect every bit of emotion from every last individual lyric with mesmerizing dexterity.
Mr. Sapp's fantastic performance is infectious with the musical theatre aerobic workouts that make up songs like "Shiksa Goddess" and "The Schmuel Song." He nails these pieces with what looks like effortless accuracy, only to be nearly outdone by the deliberately morose instances that make up songs like "If I Didn't Believe In You" and "Nobody Needs To Know." He is an absolute wonder!
The luminous Ms. Jackson has outdone herself yet again. Her rendition of "Still Hurting" is unforgettably haunting. "Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence" is a complex, fast-moving mouthful of a song, and she absolutely nails it. Her performance is precisely layered, with her more bitter moments ("See I'm Smiling") adeptly evolving towards a more jovial state of being ("A Summer In Ohio" / "Goodbye Until Tomorrow"). She is a paragon!
Both Ms. Jackson and Mr. Sapp have delivered Herculean performances all their own. And their chemistry onstage, in the tiny, ethereal moment they have together that is the song "The Next Ten Minutes" brought this reviewer to tears.
To rave and ingratiate further over the execution of every single song and moment is sorely, sorely tempting. But the need to digress is in service to any potential audience member that has yet to view this theatrical triumph. Would-be onlookers should simply go forth and let this show wash over them. May it pervade every facet of their being, because I can all but guarantee a part of it will stay with them for a very long time - perhaps always.
The latter applies to me.