Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is a contemporary classic, exploring the life and death of love through the marriage of Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein. This weekend, Brown’s sublime story comes to life as Musical Forum’s latest production. Directed by Andrew Ganem ’16 and Hannah Margolin ’16, this rendition of The Last Five Years is absolutely phenomenal; every element–from the dynamic orchestra to the electrifying voice of each actor–is brimming with passion.
The script, consisting of monologue-songs that alternate between the two characters (each of whom progresses in chronological opposition to the other), approaches the arc of passion from all angles, providing unparalleled insight into the tragedy of failed love through its unique narrative form. This approach forces the viewer into a constant struggle between riding the excitement of the relationship’s beginning and bearing the weight of its devastating end. Brown’s story, complete with all its juxtapositions, nostalgia, and irony, engages the viewer and becomes an emotional rollercoaster for every audience member.
However, Musical Forum’s rendition of The Last Five Years is so much more than its script; this breathtaking rendition transforms Brown’s love story into an almost visceral experience.
The production is characterized by its stunning dynamics across all fronts. The set, designed by Evan Finkle ’15 and Emma Margulies ’18, is constantly transforming before the viewer’s eye, while the lighting, directed by Ben Chesler ’15 and Emma Davis ’17, perfectly accentuates every moment. Even the props, devised by Wendy Ginsberg ’15, have lives of their own, evoking humor and brutal irony at pivotal moments.
The energy continues to the orchestra, directed by Ryan Segur ’17. The score itself is filled with vivacity, bolstering the plot on its own–but this production’s pit goes above and beyond what is written. The performers execute their parts not only perfectly, but also passionately, as they groove along to the music. Some musicians even adopt prominent roles, manipulating integral props and even taking center stage. In my many years of watching musicals (my older sister was a theater kid, so that’s saying a lot), I can safely say that I’ve never witnessed a pit as exciting as this six-piece ensemble.
But what strikes the viewer most is the incredible talent that commands the stage. Sarah Gage ’15, with her impossibly beautiful voice and marvelous acting skills, breathes life into Cathy’s character; meanwhile, Jesse Weil ’16 practically vibrates with energy as he jumps on tables and flawlessly hits high note after high note. Together, they take control of the audience, sucking each and every member into their respective journeys into and out of love; as performers, they are so captivating that their portrayals create reality onstage. With their incredible charisma, they induce the viewer to feel almost the entire spectrum of emotions over the course of their performance; in the end, the tangible (yet taboo) chemistry between the two actors is the glue that holds the production together and turns The Last Five Years into a truly authentic, human, and moving experience.
In short, this one-and-a-half hour show is absolutely riveting; Musical Forum’s The Last Five Years has it all–fantastic acting, an amazing story, and superb production. So, be sure to check it out this weekend at the PW Downspace. Tickets (which are free, by the way) are available at the door one hour prior to each show. Showtimes are Saturday at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., Sunday at 8 p.m., and Monday at 8 p.m.
Images via Jake Kuhn ’17 and Danielle Perelman ’17.