Backward and forward, a twist on `boy meets girl, boy loses girl'
By Jack Zink
Sun-Sentinel Theater Writer
May 13, 2003

Do you ever get the feeling that you and your marriage (or relationship) partner are headed in opposite directions? Jason Robert Brown knows your pain. His off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years is a heart-wrenching, and heartfelt, look at young lovers who pass each other by on separate emotional journeys.

Brown's two-character pocket musical bloomed in New York last spring (after a Chicago premiere), and is flowering anew at the Florida Stage in Palm Beach County. It's a bittersweet tale about two lively, impetuous souls whose love connection just doesn't hold.

In Jennifer Zimmerman and David Josefsberg director Bill Castellino has a pair of actors who could be the girl and boy next door, and that homespun quality makes the story hit closer to home. (Off-Broadway's beautiful people Sheree Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz were definitely uptown).

Brown's story examines the whirlwind courtship, marriage and breakup of aspiring actress Cathy and successful writer Jamie viewed through contrasting time frames. Through Cathy's eyes, we trace five years of events from the end to the beginning; Jamie's experience is told from beginning to end.

It's a gimmick but a very good one, handled with verve by the author-composer, and it provides a brilliant mixture of hindsight and anticipation to every scene. It also adds a few wrinkles to playwright Harold Pinter's dramatic conceit a generation ago in Betrayal, which followed a failed marriage backward.

Brown, one of musical theater's bright new lights, is having his third regional showcase this season with The Last Five Years. Parade, for which he won the Tony Award in 1999, recently had a solid revival at the Broward Stage Door. His orchestrations and new songs tailored to the plot of Urban Cowboy are the best things about that movie-to-stage adaptation, which began at the Coconut Grove Playhouse before moving, briefly, to Broadway.

Conductor Christopher McGovern leads a six-piece ensemble with instrumentation that favors the score's deeper shades. Scenic designer Dan Kuchar's new concept is an abstract satire of Rooms to Go.

The Last Five Years is slick and urbane, a tightly woven chamber musical, able to shake it when the mood is right. Yet neither those brisk pop-rock moments nor the sassy lyrics fully dispel the glow of the waltz or remove the shadow of the dirge. You won't find these chord progressions or melodic twisties on any charts, ever. The experience is more like a musical joyride with a great scat singer at a jazz club backed by a hot string combo.

The Last Five Years