Jason Robert Brown truly is one of the best living musical theater composers, his scores viscerally capturing the emotions of the characters and stories. His two-person musical The Last Five Years, inspired by his first (failed) marriage, is a gorgeous song cycle of relationship songs, from funny to heart-breaking. It's almost entirely sung through (in what should be 90 minutes), with the two characters telling their shared story in opposing directions. It's a clever device that not only creates an interesting narrative, but also parallels the story being told - two people who never quite get on the same track. Lyric Arts' production is perfectly cast, with a lush onstage six-piece orchestra, and design elements that add to the storytelling. See this lovely and heart-breaking musical at Lyric Arts in Anoka now through February 11.
|Lydia Rose Prior as Cathy (photo by Molly Weibel)
|Tommy McCarthy as Jamie (photo by Molly Weibel)
Due to space limitations, the orchestra is often in another room for Lyric Arts' musicals, the sound piped in. But for this piece they've wisely set the orchestra on a series of raised platforms at center stage, allowing the sounds of the instruments (bass and acoustic guitars, violin, grand piano, and not one but two cellos!) to fill the space with a lush and full sound. Under Music Director Ben Emory Larson (on piano), the sound of this intricate score is gorgeous, as any JRB score should be.
Lyric's Artistic Director Laura Tahja Johnson returns to the director's chair with this piece, and brings out all of the emotions, as well as some humor to lighten the load. A timeline stretches out across the floor, and after a brief meeting, Jamie takes his place on one side and Cathy on the other, never meeting or even looking at each other, until the timelines intersect in the middle for one connected scene. Then they switch places on stage, and in the story, from the happy beginning to sad end (or vice versa). They rarely leave the stage, one sitting in the dark while the other tells their side of the story.
|photo by Molly Weibel
This was my fifth time seeing The Last Five Years, and I appreciate it a little more each time (although I still think Jamie is a jerk). It's probably the finest example of musical duologue (if that's a thing) that we have. With the exception of an unnecessary intermission, Lyric Arts' production is truly lovely, doing justice to the gorgeous score and touching (and sometimes infuriating) story of a relationship coming together and falling apart, simultaneously.