By Karen Isaacs
Branford’s new Legacy Theatre is ending its inaugural season with The Last Five Years, a two person musical by Jason Robert Brown through Sunday, Sept. 26.
The Last Five Years is very popular musical with theaters; in part because it only needs two performers and minimal sets/costumes and partly because it tells a universal story of falling both in and out of love.
Brown wrote and composed this musical about Cathy and Jamie who meet, fall in love, marry and then go their separate ways within a five year span.
Each time I see it, I have a different feeling about who bears more of the blame (both share some of it) for their unhappy ending.
What makes the show unique, is that Jamie tells his side of the story from the initial meeting until his final departure. Cathy tells her version in reverse; from the breakup to the beginning.
The couple are young (just 23) when they meet: she is an aspiring actress and he a recent college grad who has written a novel. Neither knows if career success will come or what struggles each will face.
As they are falling in love, Jamie gets the break that every aspiring writer dreams of – an agent likes his novel and sells it to a major publisher. Cathy struggles through endless auditions.
Their trajectories continue on the same path – Jamie’s novel is well received and successful while Cathy continues to struggle with summer stock shows in Ohio and rejections galore.
Perhaps you can see the strains this puts on their relationship. Cathy begins to feel that Jamie is much too involved with himself and his success; endless cocktail parties leave him little time for her. But Jamie feels that Cathy resents his success due to her own insecurities and career frustrations and is less than supportive.
Any production of this show, depends on two strong performers. Legacy has Tess Adams, a Broadway veteran and Emmett Cassidy in the roles. Each fleshes out the characters with strong voices and acting skills.
In some productions, I feel that Jamie is totally self-absorbed and selfish, but Cassidy’s portrayal gives a more rounded perspective of him. Just as continuing struggles can take a toll on a person’s confidence, early success brings its own unique pressures. Jamie feels those pressures at the same time that he is both amazed by and enjoying the adulation of the literary crowd. When Cathy refuses to attend a literary cocktail party, it seems to epitomize her disinterest in his career and his success.
But Cassidy also brings out, Jamie’s flaws. He does seem less than 100 percent supportive of her struggles and too easily turns to others rather than deal with the dissatisfactions.
Cathy in Adams’ performance obviously is worn down by the never-ending career disappointments, from auditions that go nowhere, an agent that seems to have written her off, to summer stock in Ohio, with as a lyric says, a gay midget playing Tevye and Porgy. Yet we keep hoping to see the perky and happy young woman from the beginning of the relationship.
The direction by Keely Baisen Knudsen and music direction by Matthew Harrison are good. Knudsen makes good use of the sides of the theater and the front area. Occasionally the electronic piano off-stage overwhelms parts of songs.
Jamie Burnett’s set created a question for me. Why is there a rowboat in what is meant to be a pond or lake between the stage and the audience? Yes, one brief scene is definitely set in the boat but another scene didn’t have to be. It just puts a barrier between audience and performers; they do at times come in front of it. It was an unnecessary distraction.
Overall this is an enjoyable production of an interesting musical that deserves the attention it receives. You do have to pay attention to the sequence of events; my companion got lost at times about where we were in the relationship. Some productions have used projections to help. But if you just remember that Jamie is going from beginning to end and Cathy from end to beginning you’ll be fine. They are at the same place when he proposes and they marry.
One last thing, just like so many theaters, there is an endless pre-curtain speech (mostly selling future performances and merchandise) and in this case, a cute but overlong, announcement before the show.
Make time to see this well done production. For tickets contact LegacyTheatreCT.org
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