"The Last Five Years"
Characters approach love story from opposite directions
by Gary A Panetta
Peoria Journal Star

"The Last Five Years" the new musical running at the Apollo, is an exceptional, beautiful piece of theatre: wistful, thoughtful and searching.

......The search is for lost love - a return to that fragile fleeting moment when two souls come together, when the movements of mind and heart coincide, when vistas open and tantalizing possibilities beckon. The moment is found for an instant, barely the length of a song. Then it slips away forever.

.....The sole two characters of this musical - Jamie (Andrew Driscoll) and Cathy (Johanna McKenzie Miller) - approach this moment from opposite directions. Cathy's story begins at the end of the love affair and moves backward in time all the way to her first meeting with Jamie. Jamie's story begins just after his first date with Cathy and moves forward in time until the end of their relationship. The two story lines unfold together, alternating with one another, entwining like a mobius strip. A sorrowful parting is juxtaposed with an exultant meeting; love's looming is juxtaposed by love's dying; end and beginning merge. We know how it ends even as we learn how it begins.

.....One result is that we see background - the distances of disillusionment and time - when the characters only see foreground. Another dimension is supplied that would be lacking in a conventional,  
      chronological unfolding. And something, too, of the psychological state of the characters, the nature of their relationship, is captured, too. Cathy and Jamie's string of vignette-songs are monologues, not dialogues. As they argue, cajole and woo, they address empty air, not each other. We feel their solitude. They are intimate strangers.

.....Except that is for one crucial moment, when Cathy's backward moving storyline and Jamie's forward moving storyline briefly coincide: the moment when Jamie proposes to Cathy, and Cathy accepts. It's a wonderful scene - memorable, moving and artfully staged. The two giant halves of a broken picture frame, which have been sitting on either side of the stage before this, magically come together creating a love seat for Cathy and Jamie, who are nestled in each other's arms. The hour and the minute hands of a clock, scattered into two halves - which hang like two half moons above the performers during the run of the show - finally move into line. Diverging times have met. Two destinies have come together. For a while, the lovers are in paradise.

.....The music is as fresh as the storytelling. "The Last Five Years" is the work of Tony Award winning Jason Robert Brown and has song material ranging from contemporary-sounding love ballads, to tunes that owe something to a traditional Broadway musical, to one charming piece that's essentially a Jewish folk tale set to music. Driscoll and Miller deliver all the lyrics with passion, poetry and intelligence, accompanied by two cellos and a piano.

.....The small Theatre space - 150 seats - means Driscoll and Miller are under a microscope. Their slightest expression is visible. Fortunately, these performances are studies in detail: from the way Driscoll's Jamie seems to drink in the sight of his new girlfriend to Miller's eyes, which turn ever so slightly glassy, as she reads Jamie's good-bye note.

....." The Last Five Years" is a moving, special show. Nothing like it is being staged in central Illinois right now, and nothing like it is likely to come along soon. It deserves a large audience and a warm reception.

The Last Five Years