Review: Jason Robert Brown's Subliminal Masterpiece THE LAST FIVE YEARS OPENS at Richey Suncoast Theatre


By: Sep. 18, 2023
Review: Jason Robert Brown's Subliminal Masterpiece THE LAST FIVE YEARS OPENS at Richey Suncoast Theatre

“ Don’t we get to be happy Cathy, at some point down the line, don’t we get to relax without some new tsuris to push yet further from you....?”

“Will you share your life with me for the next ten minutes...?”

The Last Five Years is a musical by Jason Robert Brown that received its premiere at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre in 2001, late in 2002 it was produced off-Broadway. Since its premiere, the musical has spawned numerous productions across the United States, and overseas, and even received treatment as a film adaptation.

Describing the plot line of the story might sound confusing at first, but like any relationship, the ups and downs are never easy to traverse, unless you’re the ones living in the situation. Jason Robert Brown’s musical explores the span of a five year relationship from two different viewpoints both chronologically (Jamie’s), and in reverse (Cathy’s), the two characters never interact together onstage until their wedding in Central Park midway through the show’s/relationship’s timeline.

Sounds slightly confusing right? Allow us a moment to break down the inner-workings of the storyline a little further.

Cathy Hiatt a struggling actress meets an aspiring and soon-to-be fast-rising novelist Jamie Wellerstein. At the top of the show we meet Cathy disassembling what is left of a five year period of her life which she created with Jamie, sitting alone we begin to get a glimpse into the pain of a tumultuous breakup (Still Hurting). As the lights fall on the end of their relationship, and Cathy leaves the stage, we then meet Jamie a mere five years early, having just met Cathy and excited about the prospects of a relationship outside of his Jewish Heritage (Shiksa Goddess).

Later Cathy is in Ohio for the summer and Jamie comes to visit her, during her tour stay (See I’m Smiling). Cathy is at a point where she wants to fix issues in their marriage, but Jamie tells her he has to leave early to head back to New York. Coinciding with Jamie’s timeline we see him on the phone years prior as a younger budding novelist on the phone with publishing companies.

Continuing with Jamie’s timeline we see the pair moving in together (Moving too Fast), Jamie is excited about this new prospect towards their future, and learns his book is being published. All the while in Cathy’s timeline she is starting to understand her career isn’t going as planned. Cathy attends Jamie’s book launch (I’m a Part of That), realizing that no matter how much she is ignored due to his writing she will always love him no matter what.

Jamie and Cathy celebrate their second Christmas together, combining both Jewish and Non-Jewish customs. He sings (The Schmuel Song) a story about a tailor he has written, and in turn gives Cathy a watch as a Christmas gift, and showing his support for her career.

Back in Cathy’s timeline we hear her penning a letter to Jamie describing her disappointment about her time spent in Ohio (Summer in Ohio).

Finally, for the first and only time in the musical, the pair’s paths cross and we see them onstage in the same “timeline” as they exchange vows in Central Park, professing to spend their lives together (The Next Ten Minutes).

Back to Jamie’s timeline, as we see his career taking off, and his new found fame, he struggles with the temptation of women, knowing he’s married and cannot do anything about it (A Miracle Would Happen). Meanwhile, Cathy is seen auditioning for a musical (When You Come Home), and then proceeding to complain to Jamie about the rejection she continually faces as an actress in New York (Climbing Uphill).

Jamie is on the phone trying to convince a non-believing Cathy, that nothing is going on between him and his editor Elise. He wants to go to his book release, but when Cathy refuses to go a fight erupts around the idea that Cathy is no longer supporting his career, because hers is failing. Even though the moment is harsh, and words may have been said Jamie does his best to convince her that he will always support her (If I Didn’t Believe in You).

Years prior, and in Cathy’s timeline, we get to see a younger version of her on the way with Jamie in the car to meet her parents (I Can Do Better Than That), this is the point in her timeline in which she ask Jamie to move in with her.

Nearing the end of the relationship in Jamie’s timeline, we see him in bed with another woman (Nobody Needs to Know), in this number he defends his actions and places all the blame on Cathy for ruining their relationship.

In the final number of the show, we see an excited Cathy about the prospects of her first date with Jamie, she is seen outside her place singing (Goodbye Until Tomorrow), exclaiming she has waited for someone like Jamie her entire life. At the same time in Jamie’s timeline five years later, Jamie is alone in the apartment looking back over the five years that have come and gone (I Could Never Rescue You). In the resolution of the show Cathy waves “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” following the end of their first date, and Jamie wishes Cathy, “Goodbye.”

Jason Robert Brown’s musical is comprised of many styles/genres. Featuring pop, jazz, rock, Latin, blues, and folk to name a few. If performed with an orchestra, the orchestration consists of piano, acoustic guitar, bass, two cellos, and cymbals.

All culminating to one of the more sweeping and noteworthy scores of musical theatre of recent years.

Now that we have cleared that up let’s discuss the production at hand.

The folks at Richey Suncoast Theatre in an effort to modernize programming offerings, have opened their season with The Last Five Years. Running through September 24, 2023, providing audiences just two short weekends to experience this story of love and loss throughout the course of five years. This show is a big undertaking, both in score and overall pedigree in performance as the piece itself is truly a marathon for even the most seasoned performer. This 90 minute tour-de-force is a sweeping piece of theatre that has a chance to stir your soul and make you even for a second look at your own personal plight.

At its helm, and making her Directorial debut is Jessica Moraton.  Moraton, a local area performer and choreographer who’s work has been seen onstage across the Bay area including MAD Theatre of Tampa, The Straz Center, and Stageworks Theatre. Moraton takes a seat for the first time behind the scenes and I applaud her efforts here, and was excited to see her perspective on such a well-known musical.

As Cathy Hiatt, we meet Lindsay MacConnell. Lindsay is also a well known area performer, who like Moraton has been seen onstage and behind the scenes in much of the bay area. My most recent recollection of her performing was assuming the role of April in MAD Theatre’s Company a few years ago. Lindsay’s vocals as Cathy are unmatched here and in moments you feel for her plight. When the show opens or rather for the first seven or so minutes we are privy to a preshow of sorts, in which MacConnell’s Cathy is seen packing up the apartment at the end of the relationship. This is a wonderful moment in which we get to act as a fly on the wall so to speak before the events of the story begin. Kudos to the team behind The Last Five Years, for this unique and introspective look into Cathy’s mind, a beautiful way to open the show.

As we move throughout the timelines of the piece, I find myself wondering, do we really relate to Cathy? As an audience member which side do you find yourself on? I wonder if in the midst of creating the character arcs were we meant to fall in and out of her plight, one minute rooting for her, and the next just wondering when she will stop? In no way shape or form was this in regards to Lindsay’s performance as a whole, just some questionable choices that left me wondering how we were supposed to feel.

As Jamie Wellerstein, Tristan Horta does a fine job. His exuberance in moments like Shiksa Goddess, and Moving too Fast show the depth of his excitement about the prospects of the new relationship. You can sense he is a younger performer, and in certain moments his vocals may not have been up to the caliber of this piece, as I stated above, this show is a marathon. Also stemming from the fact that the humidity in the theatre Saturday evening was almost unbearable, I found his vocals to be almost struggling to keep up with the demands of the role. His stage presence is unmatched, and he brings everything to the stage, but in such a demanding show, going full octane the entirety of the 90-minute span can change the momentum of not only the performer but the vocal presence as well. One moment had me puzzled, and again not a reference to his performance, but when you only have two people onstage, albeit one at a time, then singular moments tend to stick out. If I Didn’t Believe in You, should be delivered more to the audience, we know he is having a fight with Cathy, the first half of the number is delivered profile, which causes the vulnerability to waiver slightly. The empathy is lost in one of the more vulnerable moments of his timeline. We need to see the moment in his mind that no matter what, he loves Cathy, and will continue to support her.

Technically speaking, The Last Five Years, does what it sets out to accomplish, by providing an entertaining night of theatre. The set is not much to behold, but in a two person primarily sung through musical, how much set does one really need? Richey Suncoast has never been known for their dynamic set designs, and this as I quote another colleague, “No Frills” approach does just fine to suit their needs. Maybe utilizing some projections to help propel the story forward would warm up the otherwise bare arena. Music Direction by Jennifer Deckelman brings out the most in the singers for their specific roles. I just wonder the reasoning behind the “canned” or pre-recorded tracks for the music. A sweeping, and beautiful score should be benefited by the addition of live musicians.  It made a story about love, and heartache come across less warm than it could have. If no orchestra, then at least a live piano player to bring the piece together. Mia Knapp’s Lighting Design works for the arch of the show, I just wonder if a few more cross-fades or black outs, would’ve aided transitions a bit better?

The question remains...who should you root for? The Last Five Years does something interesting, by allowing you as the audience member to pick a side without forcing one upon you.

Director Jessica Moraton and team do a fine job here presenting Jason Robert Brown’s piece that is inspired by his own failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill. O’Neill sued Brown over the violation of non-disparagement and non-disclosure agreements sighting the fact that Cathy’s likeness was too closely represented by that of her own. Brown then filed countersuit stating O’Neill was interfering with his creative process. Brown then changed the name of “I Could Be in Love with Someone Like You,” to “Shiksa Goddess.”

Some questionable choices in staging and some pacing issues left me scratching my head, but in the end nothing to note here besides the struggle I found myself having with the transitions. If characters are only ever to be seen onstage in true interaction in one moment of the piece, there should be a way to transition from one timeline to the next without seeing the two crossing paths on stage. I appreciated the moments of circling which made sense in the idea behind the changing of timelines, however is there a way to allow a performer to leave the stage prior to the other performer entering without halting the momentum?

The Last Five Years is onstage through September 24, 2023 at Richey Suncoast Theatre in the heart of downtown New Port Richey, Florida. Tickets can be purchased by visiting Come early to the show and take step next door to Sip Wine bar, for an intimate glass of wine and some Charcuterie, then head to the theatre and decide for yourself, which side do you find yourself on? Trust me when I tell you, I make every point to see this show when it is being staged, and the fine folks at Richey Suncoast, have packed a wallop of piece into just 90 minutes, and its a journey I was happy to experience.


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