Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Last Five Years ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Second Stage Theatre has revived Jason Robert Brown's popular theater piece in a production with two excellent singing actors, Adam Kantor and Betsy Wolfe, directed by the composer. I say "theater piece" rather than "musical" because the work is basically a song cycle with aspirations. The gimmick is to have the two characters alternate songs, with Jamie telling the story of their relationship from beginning to end while Kathy tells it in reverse from breakup to first meeting. They share a song only once when their chronologies meet and again, very briefly, at the end. When I saw the original production, I wasn't sure whether the gimmick enhanced or detracted from the work and I'm still not sure. What I am certain of is that the score is very good. Brown's music and lyrics and the way he integrates the vocal and instrumental lines are admirable. Kantor and Wolfe have big shoes to fill (Norbert Lee Butz and Sherie Renee Scott in the original), but succeed completely. The six fine musicians, who are arranged on individual platforms on the back wall, perform beautifully. Derek McLane's set is appropriately simple as are Emily Rebholz's costumes. Jeff Sugg's projections are used sparingly, but effectively. I still don't fully embrace the show's underlying concept, but I enjoyed the evening. The audience was notably younger and more enthusiastic than usual. Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission.

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