Heather McGuigan and Aidan deSalaiz star in Neptune Theatre’s production of The Last Five Years on the main stage to Feb. 9. (Stoo Metz)
Told entirely in song, The Last Five years is an 85-minute journey in joy and sorrow with bristling anger, tender love, beautiful music and excellent, haunting performances.
The award-winning, off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown on Neptune Theatre’s main stage stars Adam deSalaiz and Heather McGuigan as Jamie, a hotshot Jewish writer and Cathy, a wannabe actress who gets stuck performing in Cats.
This musical starts with Cathy in torment at the end of the relationship and Jamie in joy at its beginning. As she moves backwards in time, he moves forwards. Cathy becomes more and more joyful and energetic, Jamie slides towards anger and despair though he is the one who detonates the relationship.
The two rarely converse together and the narrative is entirely within the songs, some of which are simply gorgeous. If you are a theatregoer who loves dialogue, story and complexity in character, thought and plot, this is not the show for you.
If you love musicals, music and opera, it is.
The Last Five Years is like a perfect chamber music concert of a jazzy, poppy score with some rock with rich, skillful and expressive performances by cellist Colin Matthews and pianist/ musical director Lisa St. Clair.
The unusual structure of The Last Five Years, its music and its heartbreakingly-accurate painting of love and loss made it an off-Broadway hit. It won a Drama Desk Award and was named one of TIME Magazine’s 10 best shows of 2001. It was also adapted into a movie with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan in 2015.
The characters are in their early twenties which is often a time of infidelity and of careers soaring or failing to launch. It’s a bit annoying from a female perspective that Jamie is the idolized successful novelist while Cathy is the failed wannabe actress. The story is based on the playwright’s own failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill, who has a miniscule IMDb entry. She took legal action against him and he changed Cathy further away from reality.
Marcia Kash directs The Last Five Years for warmth, intimacy and clarity, getting all the narrative details out of the songs thanks to her actors’ tremendous abilities.
deSalaiz and McGuigan are powerful, intense singers and electrifying in their physicality and projection of emotion. The show builds to a perfect, heart-breaking end of innocence twinned with experience.
Heather McGuigan as Cathy. (Stoo Metz)
The actors perform within set designer Brian Dudkiewicz’s towering, revolving structure with shelves that act as references to an apartment. The revolve is a good metaphor for spinning backwards and forwards of time.
The lighting by Jessica Lewis is wonderful, particularly in the dappled tones of the boating scene and the colour-blaze in the Christmas scene. Also on the design team are costume designer Helena Marriott, with great casual and dress-up choices for Cathy, projection designer Aaron Collier and sound designer Joe Micallef.
The Last Five Years is a show whose exquisite beauty in the vocals is uplifting though its message of broken love is ultimately not.
As Neptune prepares for larger-cast and bigger production numbers including the season-ending Billy Eliot this two-hander has the feel of the necessarily, economically viable show. The Last Five Years runs to Feb. 9. For tickets go to neptunetheatre.com/lastfiveyears.
Adam deSalaiz as Jamie. (Stoo Metz)