BWW Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS at Taproot Showcases More Talent Than You Might Expect
"The Last Five Years", that Jason Robert Brown quirky two hander gets put up quite a bit and it stands to reason, it's a fun show filled with rich songs, it's only two actors, it typically has little to no set and so everyone and their dog puts it on. I've seen it multiple times since it came on the scene. I've seen basic, traditional productions. I've seen productions with multiple rotating casts. I've even seen a production where they reimagined why the relationship ends. So while I was leery of yet another production with the word "reimagined" in the description it also had two local powerhouses in the roles so I had faith. Well that faith was paid off in spades as not only did they present a killer rendition of this incredible show but their "reimagining" only served to showcase how insanely talented these two are. But we'll get to that.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it's fairly simple and yet it's not. We follow the relationship of Jamie and Cathy (Aaron Lamb and Katherine Strohmaier) from its beginning to its end. At least we do from Jamie's perspective. From Cathy's perspective, we follow the same relationship from its end to its beginning. From their first date to their divorce we follow polar opposite timelines that only sync in the middle of the show at their wedding.
It's a killer show with a clever twist satisfying another reason why everyone likes to do it. But to add another twist to the Lamb/Strohmaier production is that, unlike other productions, Lamb and Strohmaier are providing the musical accompaniment as well. They each play piano for the other while the other is performing their numbers. A daunting task to say the least and one that could result in disaster. What if one or both aren't as good on the piano as they are at singing? And how about the transitions when one stops playing and the other takes over. It could be quite jarring. Well as it turns out, both are incredible pianists and they must have worked those transitions forever as they were absolutely seamless even when, at times, they would swap in the middle of a musical phrase. I've listened to this show oh sooooo many times and know it pretty darn well and you would have thought JRB himself was accompanying them. It was just that flawless.
So, we have two incredible singers and musicians nailing this show and, I must add, handling the emotional arc and storytelling aspects of the show better than I've ever seen. But doesn't it get boring staging-wise? One plays, the other sings, and swap. Well not only have they added a turntable to the piano but director Linda Whitney seems to have choreographed said turntable so as to never give us a static, or boring image. The show moves, has levels and pacing, and you ultimately forget it's only two people. And I have to mention the beautiful book-ends of business they've tacked onto the beginning and end making the final moment of the piece all the more haunting.
Ultimately what we have is a different take on an already amazing show that only adds to the amazing especially when considering the level of talent involved. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give AK-L5 Productions' "The Last Five Years" a thrilled (yet not overly surprised) YAY+. From the press information I see that the two of them have been working on this for about a decade and then got to perform it down in Olympia for Harlequin Productions last year before bringing it up to Seattle. And now that it's here you'll want to be sure to catch before it goes away lest you suffer the agony of people talking about its greatness and you suffering from knowing you missed out.
"The Last Five Years" from AK-L5 Productions performs at Taproot Theatre's Isaac Studio Black Box through October 2nd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.L5YSeattle.com.