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The Last Five Years
a Musical
by Jason Robert Brown

COMPANY : The Performer’s Warehouse [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Performer’s Warehouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 5309

SHOWING : July 26, 2018 - August 05, 2018



This modern musical ingeniously chronicles the five-year life of a marriage, from meeting to break-up and from break-up to meeting.

Music Director Camiah Mingorance
Director Michael Vine
Track composer L. Gamble
Catherine Hiatt Jess Berzack
Jamie Wellerstein Jacob Valleroy
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A Star Is Born
by playgoer
Sunday, August 5, 2018
"The Last Five Years" can be a problematic musical. Its two characters take reverse chronological journeys, with Jamie’s story going from the start to the end of their relationship, while Cathy’s story goes from the end to the start. To prevent undue confusion, directorial touches are needed that create touchstones of specific moments that both experience, but which the audience sees them experience at different points in the evening. Director Michael Vine does a good job of this in The Performer’s Warehouse production. Simple things like miming of dancing with a partner or removal of a wedding ring create telling images that bind the two timelines together.

Stephanie McDonald’s set shows a lovely room with a single gray wall above deep teal wainscoting, with white trim. New York skyline and abstract paintings adorn the wall, with hooks and a shelf stage right behind a platform that doubles as a bed and a pier. Two upholstered chairs and a table balance it at stage left. It gives the impression of being the apartment of the couple at the end of their relationship, when the man is a successful author. It acts as a unit set, with no modifications to indicate which timeline is being followed.

Visual variety is added by Cathy’s costumes, which frequently change from scene to scene, and to a lesser extent by Jamie’s costumes, which morph from casual clothes at the start to a suit when he becomes more successful. Philip Wray’s lighting design does a beautifully subtle job of differentiating scenes and highlighting tonal shifts in the script.

Sound is another story. The black box theatre has only three rows of seats, so no audience member is more than about ten feet from the stage, but the actors are miked. Perhaps this is intended to allow them to sing at low volumes to save their voices, but it can be disconcerting to see lips moving onstage when sound comes primarily from a speaker at the edge of the stage. There is a wonderful balance between the pre-recorded orchestral tracks and the singers’ voices, but the stereophonic tracks work against the monophonic voices to make Gamble’s sound design seem artificial and distancing.

There’s mighty little dancing in the show, but Jen MacQueen’s choreography makes it all effective. The focus is on acting and singing, and music director Camiah Mignorance has gotten good vocal performances out of Jess Berzack (as Cathy) and Jacob Valleroy (as Jamie). At the performance I attended, Mr. Valleroy’s voice seemed to get tired as the show progressed, but Ms. Berzack’s was fresh and exciting from start to finish.

Ms. Berzack is the true star of this production. Her expressive face, her beauty (sort of a prettier Sarah Jessica Parker), and her voice all help to chart the journey of an actress whose primary credits seem to be second-rate Ohio summer stock. Since we see her story in reverse, we’re left with the image of her giddy with first love and starry-eyed about her future.

Jamie’s journey paints him as more of a villain, a hot-shot author winning early acclaim and embarking on a self-involved life that takes him progressively farther from his wife Cathy. Jacob Valleroy is a handsome guy and plays the part well, but he has a bland stage presence that makes it hard for him to win audience sympathy. Still, the final image of him broken down emotionally is telling in contrast to Cathy’s joyous optimism.

The Performer’s Warehouse is putting on a more-than-creditable production of Jason Robert Brown’s "The Last Five Years." It’s more of a song cycle than a play, with very little dialogue, but Michael Vine and the cast create an affecting story out of it. And Jess Berzack’s stellar performance is likely to linger on in memory long after the production has closed. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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