The last five years of a life is all about those little moments – the pensive glances across a mediocre party, the temporary despair at unexpected romantic loss, the jolt of a second’s success. And so is the same for the off-Broadway show The Last Five Years, playing until May 18th at Second Stage Theatre; hovering over the entire production like it’s a fishbowl isn’t going to stir you nearly as much as recalling the tiny dots of sincerity brought by the two stars – the only characters in the show: Jamie, played by Adam Kantor, and Cathy, played by Betsy Wolfe. In a show about the beginning and end of twenty-something love, the completely sung-through musical tracks a relationship in reverse; while Cathy begins at the end of it, Jamie begins at its beginning, five years back. And apart from a rare moment when they meet in the middle on a late-night boat ride in Central Park, they never sing together. The result: a he-said, she-said musical that is full of too many exuberant and heart-trampling songs for you to realize it.
Jazz, rock, musical theatre ballads, country, klezmer – Jason Robert Brown’s score has a little bit for everyone – and so does the relationship at hand. With Kantor’s spin on Jamie – a 23-year-old writer who gets his book published almost right out of college – you see what Cathy loves (and can’t stand) about him: his talent at storytelling, his unrelenting and fearless ambition, and a narcissism that yanks him from the present moments with Cathy. And you sense the burgeoning envy and resentment Cathy feels toward his success, considering she’s an aspiring theatre actress who just can’t seem to land a role, and with every rejection, feels smaller and smaller. The seesaw dynamic is painful to witness, with audience sniffles heard by the second song.
Of course, there are moments of disbelief that make the show not entirely gratifying: although Jamie is a young character, Kantor looks and acts a bit too young to deliver the emotional thunder of the role , and sometimes Wolfe’s wholesomeness is almost a bit too theatrical and animated to believe. And yet, these qualities are also the forces that make you feel for them. Detached from emotion, whitewashed with a smile – they’re the shells that sustain and then crack – in all those little moments, and they’re what makes The Last Five Years worth witnessing.
Nothing causes more simultaneous glee and horror than the news of a new movie musical, especially when the source material is a musical that I love. That’s why I’m a little conflicted about the announcement that Richard LaGravenese, director of the recent Beautiful Creatures, is planning a big-screen adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s beloved The Last Five Years.
The Last Five Years is a popular choice for regional theaters and universities, as the show is a two-personal musical chronicling the relationship between Jamie, a writer, and his actress wife, Cathy. The musical’s scenes alternate between the pair’s solo scenes, with Cathy’s being told in reverse as their marriage breaks up and Jamie’s chronological version from their first meeting. The couple share one song—when their stories meet in the middle—and the musical is an intimate portrayal of love and loss as well as an exercise in storytelling. It works brilliantly on stage, but I can’t imagine how well a two-person musical will fare for movie audiences.
Of course, the show features some fantastic songs with a slight pop, singer-songwriter sensibility rather than the orchestral fare (which is why it’s never actually been produced on Broadway). Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick is signed on to star as Cathy, which is promising; she’s shown her singing talents previously in last year’s Pitch Perfect and in Camp.
“Anna Kendrick is attached to play [Cathy], and I’m looking for [Jamie] now,” LaGravenese said of the film, which tells the story of a young couple who falls in (and out of) love. “It’s like a $2 million budget. It’s really tiny and small. It will be shot on digital with a 22-day schedule. It’s a really small thing, so we’ll see.” For LaGravenese, The Last Five Years material won’t need much tweaking for the big screen. “It’s all sung, so it’s already written,” he noted.
For New Yorkers who can’t wait for The Last Five Years: The Movie, a revival of the show will begin March 7 at Second Stage Theatre. A new production certainly won’t hurt the chances of a film version’s appeal. Meanwhile, here’s a bootleg clip of Sherie Rene Scott singing "I Could Do Better Than That" from the original off-Broadway production: