Pacy production a must for lovers of musicals
April 29 2003
By Jim Murphy
The Age

Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, directed by Dean Bryant
Echelon Productions
At fortyfivedownstairs, Flinders Lane, until May 4

An off-Broadway award-winner last year, The Last Five Years is proof triumphant that what's important in theatre is not the subject matter but the treatment.

In charting a relationship in song, New York composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown could have delivered a conventional two-hander in which the high quality of his song-writing would have ensured a perfectly respectable entertainment. His 14 songs cover every stage of a love affair and marriage, from first rapture to final disillusionment, with all the emotional highs and lows in between - humour, joy, anger, insecurity and jealousy.

But Brown does it with a twist. While Jamie, the budding New York Jewish writer, sings about the five-year relationship in standard chronological sequence, Cathy, the struggling actress who becomes his "shiksa goddess", begins at their break-up and works backwards. At the show's finale, he is walking sadly away and she is setting out full of hope.

Each of the songs is a solo and plots a different step along the way; in only one do they sing together: The Next Ten Minutes, which occurs in the middle of the show when he slips the ring on her finger at the zenith of their love.

It's not an altogether daring idea but it is executed with consummate skill. Brown writes interesting music and sharp, clever lyrics that delineate the characters and tell the story uncommonly well. The Last Five Years is a shining example of contemporary musical theatre.

Tim Wright and Amanda Levy serve the score well with their committed, intelligent and winning performances. Each has a showcase number, which they pull off in grand style; his a cockeyed Russian-Jewish legend in The Schmuel Song, and hers a funny insight into the ordeal of auditions, Climbing Uphill.

Director Dean Bryant uses the space well and ensures a smooth, pacy production. The accompaniment by Adrian Kirk (piano) and Amanda Hodder (keyboard) is a delight.

A must for anyone interested in musicals.

The Last Five Years