Musical Theatre Review – Admin
The Last Five Years, presented by Lambert Jackson Productions, in association with The Other Palace.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The more a theatre fan learns about Jason Robert Brown’s 2001 musical The Last Five Years, the less appealing a proposition it appears. Between the overdone premise of a failing relationship, the Merry We Roll Along-lite time traveling gimmick, and the uncomfortable legal and moral issues stemming from composer Jason Robert Brown being a bit too ‘inspired’ by his real-life divorce – why would anybody want to sit through this show?
Well, if you want to watch a new musical theatre production this summer, you now have precious few other options. From the theatre-less abyss of the Coronavirus lockdown, this entirely socially distanced, online presentation from Lambert Jackson Productions and The Other Palace has emerged. Fortunately, it is delightful.
As The Last Five Years’ commercial and critical success indicates, the show is much more enjoyable than it appears on paper. Your allegiances may vary of course as you view the relationship between the only two characters, aspiring actor Cathy and successful author Jamie, but that interpretability is part of the show’s appeal. Here, director Lauren Samuels explores confidently the depth and complexity of Brown’s lyrics and book.
As performers, Samuels (Cathy) and Danny Becker (Jamie) both do a stunning job. At no point does it feel like they are letting isolation hold them back from throwing their full selves into their characters’ emotional climaxes or high notes. Their poor/lucky neighbours.
Becker’s Jamie is immediately charming and funny. When his melancholier moments come, they are played with striking poignancy. If this is your first exposure to The Last Five Years, you may even find yourself on his side by the show’s conclusion. Samuels gives an equally charismatic performance of Cathy’s reverse plotline. Her incredible singing voice is given a thorough workout and provides many of the production’s highlights.
Brown’s complex and sumptuous score is reduced here to a lone piano, played with a tasteful touch by musical director Joshua Winstone. The sound is generally well-mixed and each scene is well-lit and sharp, but from a technical perspective, this is definitely more akin to a decent YouTube video than a feature film.
However, for what it is – a low-budget, online production of a musical – The Last Five Years is touching and cleverly-realised centrepiece to your faux night out at the theatre. Samuels’ excellent directing and the small screen friendly performances suggest that this summer’s musical theatre may not be all we had expected or hoped, but it could still be very exciting indeed.