BWW Review: Love Isn't Enough In THE LAST FIVE YEARS
When thinking of failed relationships, one usually begins with the end. The throbbing heartache, the jarring numbness or the outpour of emotion. The misspoken words, and the words left unsaid. Then, the beginning. The brightness, the euphoric joy, the undeniable feeling that this has never happened to anyone before. The two set side by side, the past and the present blurred like reflections in a funhouse mirror. Perception molds our relationships, it molds our realities. When the realities fail to coincide, only ruin and confusion remain.
Watching the story of The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know the impending tragedy, yet it is impossible to look away. It is a love story that is heartbreakingly relatable and incredibly painful to watch. The Last Five Years is told through the eyes of Jamie Wellerstein, a novelist, and Cathy Hiatt, an aspiring actress. Cathy tells the story in reverse-chronological order, beginning with their break-up, and Jamie tells the story in chronological order from when they first fall in love.
Arizona State University's Lyric Opera Theatre has a Student Lab process in which students have the opportunity to stage their own performances. Their production of The Last Five Years is the brainchild of students Adam Sowards, Miles Plant, Brynn Lewallen, and Lane Northcutt (and for the sake of my journalistic integrity, I will always explicitly state that I am a student enrolled at ASU in the music theatre program). The Last Five Years is the Lab's latest endeavor, produced and performed entirely by students with the backing of the LOT faculty.
Brynn Lewallen is an absolute gem as Cathy. Her bright mix resonates captivatingly in the Pythian Lounge, and she represents the multitude of Cathy's jumbled emotions with ease. From the heartbreaking "Still Hurting," to the other end of the emotional spectrum with the giddy "I Can Do Better Than That," Lewallen embodies Cathy and her growth in a way that feels like the audience is partaking in the emotional outpour themselves. Although emotional, Lewallen's Cathy never comes off as irrational--her reactions to her struggles seem genuine and heartfelt. In particular, "Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence" was a hilarious break from the whirlwind of angst and heartache Lewallen perfects in "See I'm Smiling."
Lane Northcutt as Jamie swaggers with an irresistible charm sustained throughout the musical that almost makes the character likeable. Northcutt is playful and endearing in pieces like "The Schmuel Song," hysterical and relatable in "A Miracle Would Happen/When You Come Home to Me," and intimidating and impassioned in "If I Didn't Believe In You" (a song that usually makes me undeniably furious) and ""Nobody Needs To Know." Northcutt's energy is infectious, and never seems to grow tired amidst much running and leaping about the stage.
And of course, music director Miles Plant is the unsung star of this production. He alone plays the accompaniment for the entire show, and performs with an almost tangible emotional musicality. His one line in the show, as the accompanist during Cathy's failed audition, "Next!" is iconic. Plant is the steady foundation under which Lewallen and Northcutt can build their characters and beautiful harmonies.
Stage director Adam Sowards helps convey the rather convoluted storyline to the audience, particularly by dividing the stage in half to represent the past on one side, and the present on the other. Additionally, his blocking helps fuel the fantastic chemistry between the two leads.
The Pythian Lounge is an open space that encourages the audience to fully connect with the actors. It is an intimate area that feels more like an expanded living room than a stuffy theatre. It allows the intimacy of the musical to fully resonate within each of the viewers.
The Last Five Years is a polarizing story audiences tend to either adore or despise. However, Lyric Opera Theatre's Student LAB has managed to pull it off, and deliver a story that is powerful and emotionally stirring. And the takeaway message? Sometimes love isn't enough.
For more information about ASU's Lyric Opera Theatre and the Student Lab, go to music.asu.edu/lot
Photo credit: Adam Sowards and Lane Northcutt