'LAST 5 YEARS' A MUSICAL MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND
By MICHAEL RIEDEL
March 6, 2002 -- NOW that Jason Robert Brown's new musical, "The Last 5 Years," has opened to mixed reviews (including a pan from the Times that should pick it off within weeks), let us, in VH1 fashion, look at the story behind the story.
"The Last 5 Years" is a portrait of a starter marriage between an aspiring novelist, Jamie, and a struggling actress, Kathy.
The marriage unravels, we are led to believe, because his career takes off and hers doesn't.
He starts moving in fancy literary circles; she stays home, wallowing in self-pity.
They grow apart, and love dies.
In this week's New York magazine, Brown called "The Last 5 Years" "personal," carefully avoiding the word "autobiographical."
And with good reason: "The Last 5 Years" is, in fact, a portrait of Brown's own failed marriage to a struggling actress named Theresa O'Neill - but, under the divorce settlement, he is prohibited from saying so.
Brown met O'Neill in the early 1990s while she was answering phones in director Hal Prince's office.
Prince has long been Brown's mentor, and directed his flop musical, "Parade," which won the Tony for Brown's score. (Prince's daughter, Daisy, directed "The Last 5 Years.")
Friends say the marriage unraveled quickly - and acrimoniously - as Brown, anointed by Prince as the next Stephen Sondheim, was beginning to make a name for himself in theater circles.
At the time of his divorce, Brown was working on a show that would eventually become "The Last 5 Years."
In the settlement, Brown agreed to "use his best efforts to have the two-character musical project his is working on not identified as a work based upon the parties' marriage and he will not create any other character that can be identified as [O'Neill]."
"The Last 5 Years" premiered last year at a small Chicago theater.
Lincoln Center Theater announced it would produce the show in New York, but then dropped it after O'Neill's lawyers told the theater in a letter that they believed "the play, as produced recently in Chicago, violated the agreement of the parties."
Two commercial producers - Marty Bell and Ariel Tepper - picked up the option on the show and immediately found themselves embroiled in litigation.
Brown sued O'Neill for interfering with "The Last 5 Years."
She countersued Brown, as well as Bell and Tepper.
The dispute was resolved on Feb. 7, just as "The Last 5 Years" was about to begin previews.
Brown agreed to eliminate any similarities between Kathy and O'Neill.
Originally, Kathy, like O'Neill, was Irish Catholic.
According to the settlement, "all Irish references will be removed throughout the play."
All references to Kathy as "Angel" (Brown's nickname for O'Neill) were eliminated.
Brown also agreed to pick up O'Neill's legal fees, up to $55,000, in monthly installments of $10,000, starting in April.
Producers Bell and Tepper have guaranteed the payments.
Through a friend, O'Neill declined to be interviewed for this story.
She has not seen "The Last 5 Years," though she did read the revised script and signed off on the changes.
Brown did not return a call seeking comment.
The Last Five Years