Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Richard Block
Musical Direction by Damien Slingsby
Teatro Vivaldi, April 24 – May 2, 2015
Review by Len Power 24 April 2015
There are two very good reasons to see ‘The Last Five Years’ – the music and the performances. Both reach the heights in the new production at Teatro Vivaldi.
Jason Robert Brown’s musical dissects the bumpy relationship between Jamie and his wife, Cathy, over a period of five years. It doesn’t have a happy ending but we know that from the start as the structure of the show starts with Cathy at the end of the relationship and Jamie at the start. As the show progresses, Cathy goes back in time to the joyful beginning while Jamie goes forward to the sad end of their relationship. It’s a clever idea on paper but, as Jamie’s songs at the end are especially sombre and Cathy’s are not bright enough in contrast, the conclusion is much too depressing.
However, the music score is mostly very satisfying. Jason Robert Brown – one of the crop of interesting new composers in American theatre – writes excellent mood music for his characters. The arrangements are lush and no-one uses a cello for effect quite like he does. Musical director, Damien Slingsby, and his small group of musicians have presented the score superbly.
The show won’t work at all if you don’t have high-calibre performers. Both Vanessa De Jager and Fraser Findlay more than met the demands of the music and also gave in-depth character performances that were quite believable and moving.
Given the limits of the venue, the set designed by Thompson Quan Wing was quite substantial and well-executed. However, its deliberate drab reality reinforced the show’s already sombre feel. An abstract design could have provided more imaginative opportunities to lift the mood in the happier moments of the show. The sound balance was variable during the performance, especially in the first two songs and also in Cathy’s ‘Climbing Uphill’ in the second act. Costumes by Suzan Cooper and Fiona Leach were well-chosen to match the mood of the characters in different moments of their journey through their relationship and the occasional choreographed moments were nicely executed by Hannah McFadden.
Richard Block, the director, has wisely staged the show with plenty of movement. There were some awkwardly staged entrances and exits, though, which were a bit too challenging for effective lighting and sound in that venue. Overall, he has provided a mostly satisfying production of this interesting show.
In an unusual move by the director, the cast reviewed here will have finished their performances by now. A different cast will perform the show in the second week of the season. The show gives actors a great opportunity to interpret characters in their own individual ways. It would be interesting to see what the second cast makes of it.
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 26 April 2015 from 5pm.