Music, Lyrics and Libretto By: Jason Robert Brown
Directed by: Daisy Prince
Starring: Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott
Minetta Lane Theatre

The name Norbert Leo Butz sounds more like the butt of schoolyard jokes than
the name of a Broadway star, but believe me, Butz is a star on the
ascendancy and the musical theater man to watch. After delivering a searing
performance as a punk in the recent revival of Saved and winning kudos for
his show-stopping performance as the sweaty-haired, sickly, cuckolded mama¹s
boy (and later a cocky, dapper ghost) in the failed musical Thou Shalt Not,
Butz blazes with a white heat and a dazzling talent in Jason Robert Brown¹s
off-Broadway two-character chamber musical The Last 5 Years. Sherie Rene
Scott, the vampy material girl princess in Elton John¹s Aida, is his equal
here, bringing a sweetness and vulnerability to the role of his aspiring
actress wife.

The Last Five Years chronicles the disintegration of the marriage between
two young wanna-be artists - - from the giddy first days of falling in love
to the fights, cheating and mounting personal and professional fissures that
destroy their five-year relationship. Reportedly a little too autobiographical for
the actress/ex-wife of the musical's composer, lyricist, and librettist
Jason Robert Brown, the musical was withdrawn from
Lincoln Center's schedule when she threatened a lawsuit and now (with some
slight revisions) has opened off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
Brown's own career parallels that of the musical¹s protagonist, Jamie, a
novelist who strikes gold with his first novel. In his Broadway debut Brown
won the 1999 Tony Award for his ambitious and powerfully moving score for
Parade. Here he has written a sung-through pop score that masterfully
combines elements of rock, Jewish, bluegrass, and Irish folk music with
insightful and witty lyrics. Brown also conducts the six-piece orchestra
from the keyboard.

In what could have been a gimmicky trick but instead works amazingly well,
Brown cleverly tells Jamie (Butz) and Cathy's (Scott) story in opposite
directions, the two are like two trains speeding past each other to
different destinations. The play opens with the lament "Still Hurting" as
Cathy reads a farewell letter from Jamie, ending their marriage, and traces
her feelings toward her novelist husband back to the moment she realized
"I Can Do Better Than That" and met Jamie. Jamie's story, on the other hand,
begins when the Jewish writer commits the unpardonable sin - - at least to
his suburban family - - of falling in love with Cathy, a small-town "Shiksa
Goddess." The trajectory of these star-crossed lovers only overlaps twice,
mid-point during the 83-minute song cycle during their courtship in a
rowboat in Central Park and at their idyllic wedding. But while Jamie tries
to cope with his meteoric rise as a successful, best-selling novelist, Cathy
suffers the indignities of humiliating auditions and third-rate stock
productions in the hinterlands.

Daisy Prince - - who directed Brown's off-Broadway debut revue, Songs for a
New World - - several years ago, has staged the musical with a sure hand,
keeping the complex time zones clear and comprehensible so that the audience
always knows exactly at what place in time and at what emotional stage each
of the characters is. She has also elicited dynamite performances from the
two talented stars in the making. Butz¹s Jamie embodies both the joy of
success and the obnoxiousness of ego while Scott¹s Cathy is vulnerable,
dependent and guileless.

Despite mixed reviews, the musical hits home with the twenty-something
audience with whom I saw it. They were totally involved and moved by the
archetypal tale of young love among ambitious New York artists and gave a
rousing ovation to the terrific stars. Hopefully The Last 5 Years will prove
to be critic-proof and find its natural and enthusiastic audience by word of

- Jane Klain

The Last Five Years