Lauren McCombs & Andrew Newton in The Last Five Years.
Photo courtesy Acting Against Cancer.
The Last Five Years
Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Remy Sisk
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2016 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
In matters of the heart, there are two sides to every story. After the end of a romance, one’s perspective is skewed, leaving plot holes and unanswered questions. Heartbreak is sure to follow fraught intimacy, and only the strongest survive. Jason Robert Brown’s semi-autobiographical song cycle The Last Five Years illustrates a failed relationship in the simplest terms. Acting Against Cancer’s current staging of the piece is a tender showcase of the highs and lows of falling in love.
The aesthetic for Acting Against Cancer’s production is quite lovely. The set is a quaint thrust accompanied by a small proscenium arch. Clocks, windows, letters, and pictures represent memories, missed chances, and longing. For what’s considered a “simple show,” as noted in the program notes, this stage design hits the nail on the head, as it were. An additional treat in this production is the small orchestra placed behind the screen upstage. Conducted by Charlie Meredith, this ensemble handles the intricacies of Brown’s score beautifully and with dynamic precision.
The biggest challenge of this piece resides in the two characters, Cathy and Jamie. These roles demand revealing, intimate, and vulnerable performances. Lauren McCombs and Andrew Newton do commendable work as the young and hungry couple chasing after their dreams in New York City. As Cathy, McCombs shows depth as she evolves from an insecure woman facing the end of her marriage to an ambitious Broadway hopeful fueled by a spunky personality. McCombs’ range for this wide emotional spectrum is evident in the songs “Still Hurting” and “I Can Do Better Than That,” while she clutches onto the frustration of her chosen career path in “Climbing Uphill.”
Whereas McCombs’ Cathy is the victim of a disappointing marriage and career, Andrew Newton’s Jamie is a passive yet brilliant writer on the brink of success. In what some may consider a throw-away song, Newton’s delivery in “The Schmuel Song” is not only funny but also displays the emotional connection between the two lovebirds. Here, Newton gives a genuine and fully realized performance that shows the couple’s blossoming relationship and how it affects each of their lives. Newton shines in his sexually frustrated rendition of “A Miracle Would Happen,” as well as producing an aptly condescending version of “If I Didn’t Believe In You.”
Jason Robert Brown’s elaborate score demands strong vocal performances and clear staging from reversed, opposing perspectives as it builds momentum toward an emotionally heightened ending. While McCombs and Newton give tremendously energetic performances that remain faithful to Brown’s libretto, the events causing the couple’s demise seem lost in the shuffle despite such bold performances. Nevertheless, Acting Against Cancer’s The Last Five Years is emotionally driven and full of passion.
Musical Ensemble: David Taustine (piano), Michael Vettraino (guitar), Anna Blanton (violin), Travis Carlisle (cello), Matthew Mozzoni (bass), Charlie Meredith (conductor)
The Last Five Years
April 9, 2016 at 8:00 pm
April 10, 2016 at 2:00 pm
Acting Against Cancer
at The MeX Theater
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 584-7777 or (800) 775-7777
Kate Barry earned her Bachelor’s in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare, Bunbury Theatre, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theatre, Finnigan Productions… and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won Festival Favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for Leo Weekly and Theatre Louisville as well. Thanks for reading!