BWW Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS at PART THEATRE
The Last Five Years takes us on an emotional journey into the lives of Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wallerstein, moving backwards and forwards in time. Each song depicts the scenes that ultimately lead up to the demise of their marriage, as they tell their stories through each chapter of their lives, from when they met to when their union crumbles. Cathy's story is told from her perspective starting from the breakup and cycles backwards, while Jamie begins his when they meet, and moves forward. Performed for the second time in Omaha, Leanne Hill Carlson and John E. Jones play the only two roles featured in the production. Directed by Gordon P. Cantiello, the small, intimate space of the PART Theatre is used cleverly, with the actors running up the aisle or sitting off to the side of the room as they muse over their thoughts and feelings to the audience. The whole feel is very conversational, candid, and effectively paints a picture of the stories of the husband and wife, and how they slowly start to grow apart.
Aspiring writer Jamie is a regular mensch, who his family is trying to set up with a nice Jewish girl. He feels like he has exhausted the dating pool until he meets Cathy who is, well a gentile, but nonetheless the perfect girl for him, ("Shiska Goddess"). Cathy is enamored and excited at the prospect of entering into Jaimie's world as he lands a book deal. But after spending some time in Jamie-land, she gradually starts to feel like she is living in his shadow, ("Part Of That"). Jamie encourages Cathy to pursue her own dreams, and she starts doing summer theatre and spends a summer apart from him in Ohio. A series of events and the distance between them tests their relationship as it begins to fall apart. They meet in the middle of both character's stories during their wedding, ("The Next Ten Minutes").
The Last Five Years opened in 2001 where it earned critical claim and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Lyrics. There is a myriad of things going on with each character revealed through song, as with the structure of most modern musicals. Each song denotes a scene transition, telling a story. Void of dialogue, you have to put the pieces of the puzzle together to infer what is happening. The songs are so emotionally charged that you can pick up on what they are, even if subtly nuanced. Although there's a bittersweet story line, the performances are top-notch with the talents of Hill Carlson and Jones on full display. Seasoned performers in Omaha, Carlson and Jones both showcase dynamic vocals and belt vocals that move you with raw emotion. When not singing thought-provoking solos the pair perform a beautiful duet, emoting with passion.
Notably great moments in the show, "A Miracle Would Happen," when Jones sings a song about his temptation towards other woman while having just tied the knot, and the comical delivery of "Climbing Uphill," a song that Hill Carlson performs when going from audition to audition. Perhaps most actors and performers can relate to Cathy's lament as she bombs audition after audition and unleashes an internal monologue in her head that she sings out loud. Her introspective is all too familiar and real. Jones also tells a charming story of a tailor and a magic clock in "The Schmuel Song," and his storytelling is exceptionally engaging, not to mention entertaining.
A musical ensemble provides the background, with Jennifer Novak Haar playing keyboard with strings accompanying her.
This show is sentimental, soul-searching, and tear-jerking, but meant to stir you up inside and make you think about life. In retrospect, one looks back at their past to see how they ended up in the present. The Last Five Years reflects on that and does it well, bringing a really beautiful piece of musical theatre to the forefront.