Theater review, 'The Last Five Years' at Northlight
Theatre 'Last Five
Years' gives romantic tale unique spin
By Richard Christiansen
Exhilaration, so intense that it brings tears of joy, is at hand in
premiere of "The Last Five Years" at Northlight Theatre.
This two-person, 80-minute musical, bursting with newfound talent, is
triumph for everyone involved: for Northlight, in getting first crack at it
and giving it a classy production; for its two luminous principals, Lauren
Kennedy and Norbert Leo Butz, who sing it to the heavens; for director Daisy
Prince, who has staged it with a sensitivity and imagination that increases
its already potent emotion; and for composer Jason Robert Brown, who wrote
it out of his own life and who has created for it a constant stream of
extraordinary, jubilant theater music.
His story, all in song, tells of the five-year rise and fall of the
between Jamie and Kathy, an ambitious Jewish writer and an aspiring Irish
actress who meet, fall deeply in love, marry, grow apart and separate. His
career booms, hers is never to be so grand. His faith turns to infidelity,
her devotion becomes frustration.
Reminiscent in some respects of such stories as "A Star Is Born" and
"Merrily We Roll Along," Brown's semi-autobiographical tale is nonetheless
unique in the way it unfolds.
Kathy begins her story at the sad end of the marriage; Jamie starts
account at the happy beginning. Occasionally interacting with each other,
but always singing solo, they work their way toward the middle of the show,
which is their wedding, and there, for the first time, they sing a duet, a
heartbreaking hymn of trust and commitment.
After that turning point, Jamie moves in his solos toward the end of
affair and Kathy journeys toward the beginning, until at the final moment,
in a brilliant, fleeting stage image, they cross paths for the last time.
With the use of a turntable, the musical is played out in seamlessly
scenes against designer Beowulf Boritt's background of a fractured circle
decorated with wedding ceremony seating and floral arrangements. Behind a
curtain on the right, Brown, at the piano, leads his orchestra of guitar,
violin, bass and two cellos.
The piano-playing is the musical's strong pulse, a force unto itself
propelling the action and the acting. Butz as Jamie and Kennedy as Kathy
respond to it with all-out dynamism, weaving together the big climaxes and
the gentle diminuendos of the score. Lyric ballads, jazzy patter bits, grand
arias and even a lovely little Jewish folk tale, sung at Christmas, are
unspooled in an effortless flow of music.
Stunning as individual numbers, the songs also are strengthened as connected
companion pieces. The show begins, for example, with Kathy reading Jamie's
farewell note, and it ends with Jamie writing the note. Her final refrain is
"Goodbye, until tomorrow." His is simply, "Goodbye."
There may be some flaws. Butz's Jamie, fairly seething with the actor's
expressive voice and marvelous body language, is forever captivating, even
when he's most unsympathetic. But Kathy's part, for all of Kennedy's big
moments, is a little underwritten, and the segments dealing with her casting
auditions as an actress lean perilously toward the cute.
But no matter. "The Last Five Years " is exciting, innovative and altogether
You better go see it. I will not leave you alone until you do.
The Last Five Years