Posted on Tue, May. 13, 2003

Love dies musically in 'Years'

Who says musicals have to be bombastic and spectacular?

That their story can't be intimate and personal? Having its Florida premiere at Manalapan's Florida Stage, Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years proves otherwise. This thoroughly modern gem is straight theater -- insightful, moving, realistic -- except that the story is told in music.

Disjointed chronologically but never hard to follow, Jamie (David Josefsberg) and Cathy (Jennifer Zimmerman), almost always separately, relive their time together -- five years of love found and lost. From the first number ( Still Hurting ), when Cathy in 2003 finds Jamie's wedding band and a goodbye letter on the table, you know how their love will end. Yet you're hooked to the story from the first bars from the live band.

Love strikes shortly after Jamie and Cathy first meet barely out of college in 1998. But as with many couples today, personal careers -- he as a writer, she as an actress -- will get in the way. While roles don't come easy to Cathy, Jamie quickly becomes a best-selling author. Commitments, whether auditions or book signings, keep them apart. They try to be there for each other but, in their case, actions don't match the intentions. By the time Jamie says, ''I won't lose because you can't win,'' you realize there's little hope for a future. Doesn't this sound familiar?

Award-winning Brown's music, with its unusual and seductive tempos, tells as much about the emotions as the lyrics, especially since the story is told out of sequence. There are some special numbers, such as the touching The Schmuel Song , whose meaning you don't get until it's all told. Directed by Bill Castellino, Josefsberg and Zimmerman are terrific in their roles, though Zimmerman's powerful voice at times makes her Cathy come through as if she needed to yell to show her feelings. It's not entirely her fault; Jamie is a better-defined character whose emotional progression is easier to detect.

Dan Kuchar's set design -- two rotating platforms, flowing curtains and projected titles on the walls -- complements the story with its minimalist touch. The Last Five Years is a musical for the times.

The Last Five Years