Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Staged Reading of "The Last Five Years" by Silver Slipper Productions at Bryant-Lake Bowl

Last weekend was a pretty great and busy theater weekend. I saw five shows in three days, including two exciting new works as part of History Theatre's Raw Stages festival, and the opening of two great shows - Sandbox Theatre's Big Money at Park Square Theatre, and Theatre in the Round's A View From the Bridge. And the icing on the cake that was my weekend was a little show called The Last Five Years.

You may have heard of Jason Robert Brown's simple yet complex story of a relationship through music due to the recent movie, which I still haven't seen. But I have seen it on stage twice, and I have to say, Silver Slippers Productions' staged reading may be my favorite production so far. The songs so clearly define the characters and relationship (there's little dialogue in the piece) that simple staging might just be the best way to showcase it. Any complicated set pieces, costume changes, or moving around the stage just get in the way.

If you don't know the show, the basic premise is that a married couple tells the story of their relationship chronologically. But the trick is, Cathy tells it backwards, starting from the break-up through that first meeting, while Jamie tells it forwards, from first blush of love to disenchantment. They meet in the middle for one song at their wedding. It's a clever premise, effectively pulled off by the brilliant JRB. He's a master at story songs, those songs that really capture a moment, a feeling, a relationship, an entire history or hope for the future (see also Songs for a New World).

Actor/singers Adara Bryan and Eric Heimsoth really sold the story in their one-night-only performance, both musically and emotionally. They both have gorgeous voices, and are also able to put emotion into the words, and even in the reaction to the other person's song as they take turns telling their stories. Director Seth Gabriel-Mayotte keeps the staging simple, allowing the story, emotions, and music to be the stars, and the three-piece band (led by Martino Gabriel-Mayotte) is a perfect match to the simple staging.

At the end of the show, Adara told us that this was her swan song in the Twin Cities; she's moving to the Big Apple! I've seen her in several shows around town, but this was really the first time I saw her play a lead role, and I was really impressed. I wish her the best of luck in NYC, and I look forward to seeing her on stage there sometime in the not too distant future.