STORIES LIKE THESE: A contemporary musical about the rise and fall of a young couple’s relationship, from Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown.
Presented at the newly revamped ‘The Reginald’ (formerly known as the Seymour Centre Downstairs) this is an exciting, captivating production that showcases two exceptional performers in a great contemporary musical.
Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown is one of the major musical forces in modern America. Audiences might be familiar with his Parade (1998) and Songs for the New World (1995).
Originally staged in 2002, Brown’s The Last Five Years is a vibrant, intimate musical that follows the story of the ups and downs of a young New York couple’s relationship, seen from both points of view. Cathy’s (Marika Aubrey) story is seen from the end of their relationship and messy divorce, while Jamie’s (Rob Mills) begins for us the day they first meet.
Jamie is an up-and-coming bestseller writer, Cathy an actress. Jamie’s career takes off and blossoms with huge book launches and the like, but Cathy gets stuck in a rut, an endless treadmill of auditions and low rent summer stock tours – as exemplified in ‘Climbing Uphill’. (Another of Cathy’s song ‘See I’m Smiling’, is similar to songs in A Chorus Line or Gypsy where she almost goes mad with anxiety and frustration stops the show.)
Musically, The Last Five Years is sensational. The small orchestra under the enthusiastic direction of Mark Chamberlain performs the tricky, intricate work tremendously.
Some of my colleagues compare Brown to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber but for me he is following more in the footsteps of the legendary Stephen Sondheim, with the difficult rhythm changes, the acerbic psychological depths of his songs, the marvelous use of language etc. (Note by the way there is some strong language in this show!) It is all so very American yet universal. Audience members sometimes change allegiance during the show, at times siding with Cathy, others agreeing with Jamie, and occasionally being torn between the two.
There are some very difficult but exceedingly lovely counterpoints and harmonies and some fabulous solos but no actual duets as such for the pair. Some of the music is very obviously ‘Broadway’ but there is also ‘cool’ jazz, waltzes, ballads etc.
The two cast members are outstanding and give great performances, singing and acting their hearts out. Marika Aubrey as Cathy is brilliant, giving a wonderfully sung, subtly acted performance. Hunky, chiseled Mills – yes the 2003 Australian Idol magnifico – as Jamie is a terrific actor and singer. His ‘The Schmuel Song’, a Christmas time ‘clock’ song where he romances Cathy, is enchanting, and his ‘I Could Never Rescue You’, where he sadly faces the end of their relationship, is marvelous.
Set design by James Browne is clean and minimalist (sort of a white cross walkway with two entrances/exits) and Ross Graham’s lighting is fluid and atmospheric. The costumes by Dale-Johnson are mostly ‘casual contemporary’ with lots of small changes of accessories.
This intimate production showcases two terrific performers playing characters we grow to know and really feel for. Semi-autobiographical, the show is described as ‘raw, enchanting and bittersweet’, which it certainly is. There was lots of anxious discussion afterwards by earnest couples.
Rating: Four stars
The Last Five Years
Presented by Stories Like These in association with the Seymour Centre
Director: Luke Rogers
Musical Director: Mark Chapman
Set Design: James Browne
Lighting Designer: Ross Graham
Costume Designer: Marissa Dale-Johnson
Marika Aubrey as Cathy
Rob Mills as Jamie
The Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
July 13 – 30
Running time: 90 mins (approx) no interval
The below video is from the original off-Broadway production of The Last Five Years