Nice job of love on the rocks
Richard Ouzounian, Toronto Star
The Last Five Years 4 stars
By Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Daryl Cloran. Until May 29 at CanStage
Berkeley St. Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. 416-368-3110.
A toast, please, to Tyley Ross and Blythe Wilson.
These two amazing performers are delivering a breathtaking display of star
quality in the CanStage production of The Last Five Years, which opened last
night at the Berkeley St. Theatre. Thanks to them, this show constantly touches
our hearts. And due to the superlative band led by Marek Norman, it blesses
our ears as well.
Our eyes get short-changed, however, and for that, director Daryl Cloran
and his design team are to blame, but we'll come to them in time.
Jason Robert Brown based this stimulating show on the break-up of his marriage
to an actress whose career was stuck in low gear while he won the 1999 Tony
Award for his Broadway musical, Parade. It was only a matter of time before
the gap in the careers caused a gap in their lives.
In this version, they're called Cathy and Jamie. She's still a failed actress,
but he's now a successful young novelist. Brown makes us follow their
stories separately, starting with her at the end and him at the beginning.
Their narrative lines only intersect once, in the sequence relating their
proposal and wedding. Then it's back to two solitudes, until we reach
the opposite pole: He's walking out on the end of their marriage, while she's
experiencing their ecstatic first date.
It's a tough-tender work and Brown has the skill to deliver the songs that
bring it all to life. He can make us laugh, as when Cathy recalls working
in a summer theatre "with a gay midget named Karl playing Tevye and Porgy."
But then he can turn around and hit us with a truth as brutal as Jamie's line
to Cathy, "I will not lose because you can't win."
The music under these sentiments is tuneful or rhythmic as each moment demands
and Norman and his musicians deliver the goods with a fine sense of what's
Ross has never given a more joyously open performance. He sings as beautifully
as he always does, but this time around, he adds a wonderful sense of physical
comedy to the mix, as well as the capacity to display a heart that's slowly
but irrevocably splitting in two. And the dazzling Wilson continues to grow
more impressive with each appearance. Her voice manages to combine silky vulnerability
with brassy assurance. Within one song, she can deliver rage, pathos and
humour, tying it all together with that unforgettable smile of hers that
lingers in the memory like a melody.
The ingredients are all there for a smash, but what we wind up with is merely
very good. Director Cloran has staged most scenes with a nice mixture
of simplicity and invention, but too often he has people delivering songs
while looking off to the corners of the stage, which diffuses the energy
terribly. And what he hasn't done is to find a visual or directorial
concept that would make the whole piece click as a satisfying whole. Kelly
Wolf's set is simply bland and Kevin Lamotte's lighting is unforgivably dull,
letting a world of opportunities slip by.
Yet, all in all, you should go to The Last Five Years. It's funny, touching,
tuneful and blessed with Tyley Ross and Blythe Wilson - two of the most exciting
and attractive stars a musical in this city has ever seen.
You can't ask for much more than that.
The Last Five Years