On Stage: Signature Theatre: The Last Five Years

She Said: The Last Five Years

It’s always a privilege to spend a night at the theater. But, if you get to see a show that makes you laugh, cry and think, then you know that you’ve received a wonderful gift. A good show or a good performance can live in your mind for years through its memory. Dialogue and songs can embed themselves within you and encourage or prod you throughout your life. Signature Theatre’s production of The Last Five Years is not only an entertaining; it also manages to teach thoughtful lessons about relationships and self-awareness.

The Last Five Years, written and composed by Jason Robert Brown feels very real. It tells the story of a young couple, Jamie and Cathy, and all the twists and turns of their relationship from beginning to end. They tell their stories from their own viewpoints although Cathy starts her version at the end of their relationship and Jamie starts from the beginning. The story isn’t too funny, although it’s very funny at times, and although it’s sad in moments it’s not depressing. The story charts out the dance that is being a couple with all the swells of joy, questions, and footwork that grows out of years of moving together.  “A Summer in Ohio” really struck a chord with me because we actually did spend time apart while I interning at a theater in a small town. I laughed out loud many times during that song because it was all so true! “The Schmuel Song” is really one of the best songs in the entire show, and I’ve been singing it since Saturday, because it’s just so encouraging. The music from The Last Five Years feels like a seamless blend of different styles that feels contemporary, but not trendy. Okay, truth time- I’ve been singing many songs from this show. I’m in my 30’s and a struggling writer who misses acting and I’m married- I could really identify with this show. As much fun as it is to see shows about people who sing and escape Nazis (The Sound of Music) or free flying monkeys (Wicked) sometimes it’s therapeutic and personally enlightening to see a show that feels like it’s about your life.  I walked away from this with a resolve to make sure that I don’t give up effort on my dreams, and a reminder that being supportive of RJ cares about is also important.

Aaron Posner helms Signature’s production of The Last Five Years and as strong as the story and music are, some of the best aspects of this show were unique to this performance. The stunning set, designed by Daniel Conway, had such a great suggestion of the passage of time from the lovely clocks and the paper “clutter” that gathers from five years spent together. The lighting design, by Andrew F. Griffin, was lovely and really helped inform the audience of time and location. While the costumes, designed by Kathleen Geldard, were simple, they still conveyed the character. I really loved the sweater stolen from the costume shop. I have several costume shop polyester castoffs that I would run back into a burning house for. Costume shops have great funky clothes and I really loved that attention to detail that was put into that sweater!

The performances in the show were amazing. I don’t mean to be clichéd, they really effected me and there’s not a word that better describes it than amazing. Erin Weaver (Cathy) had my heart from the first words that she sang. I believed her and felt an instant deep connection with the character.  Her performance was charming and very natural. James Gardiner (Jamie) played his character mix of arrogance, charm and wit that made him very believable. The best kind of acting is when you don’t see the work at all. Neither of these performers made it look like “acting” and in my mind they will always live as Jamie and Cathy. Their individual voices were beautiful, but when they sand together it was stunning.

I love Signature Theatre because they always put on amazing productions. I’ve never been disappointed in seeing a show and my expectations are met or exceeded. It’s a lovely and comfortable location with well-used performance space.  The staff are all friendly and helpful. The piano in the lobby is so relaxing and the food from the bar is great, too.

We had just attended a seminar on marriage at our church immediately before seeing The Last Five Years. I thought how much I wished the other couples could see this show. It’s fun, but it’s so challenging and really causes you to reflect on your own relationship. If you are in a relationship- go see this show.  While it is a musical it’s not kid-friendly. It’s not too racy or blue and the language is only sparingly populated with words that you wouldn’t want a little one repeating. But, a child will not be able to understand the complexities of the script or an adult relationship. If you have kids- hire a sitter and go see this show.

My only complaint with the whole evening is that now I don’t have a t-shirt with part of “The Schmuel Song” printed on it. I love my Dreamgirls t-shirt and I would totally love a The Last Five Years shirt, too!

It was a great night at the theatre. What are you waiting for? Go get your tickets!

Kari’s Rating- 10

Aspiring New York actress Cathy (Erin Weaver) enjoys a quiet sunset in “The Last Five Years,” now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through April 28, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

Aspiring New York actress Cathy (Erin Weaver) enjoys a quiet sunset in “The Last Five Years,” now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through April 28, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

Jamie (James Gardiner) and Cathy (Erin Weaver) enjoy a night on the town in “The Last Five Years,” now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through April 28, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

Jamie (James Gardiner) and Cathy (Erin Weaver) enjoy a night on the town in “The Last Five Years,” now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through April 28, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

amie (James Gardiner) and Cathy (Erin Weaver) can’t help but fall in love in “The Last Five Years,” now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through April 28, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

amie (James Gardiner) and Cathy (Erin Weaver) can’t help but fall in love in “The Last Five Years,” now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through April 28, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

He Said: The Last Five Years

When going to see Signature Theater’s The Last Five Years there are a few things you should know.  This is a very modern theatre experience.  There will be no intermission.  The songs are written in a very modern Broadway style.  You will still be singing at least one song a week later.  There will be very little dialogue.  There are only two people on stage the whole time. They will hold your attention and not make you want to blink.

James Gardiner (Jamie) and Erin Weaver (Cathy) will also make you sad that you can’t buy a cast recording of this version, as they perform these songs much better than the original Broadway performances.  These are both very flawed characters, and Gardiner and Weaver let the subtle things shine through that show us about these characters.  Since they are the only two people on stage, this could not have worked with subpar performances from either.

In a romantic relationship it’s fairly common for each party to have a different experience.  Ironically, this part of being human that should be least lonely often is turned into the loneliest.  The Last Five Years spotlights this aspect of our relationships brilliantly.  Most of the songs are sung by only one of the cast, with very little dialogue actually occurring between them. Adding to this sense of individual experience is that Jamie is telling the story chronologically, Cathy is telling the story backward.  It’s a great way to pack a lot of story into a very short amount of time, but it can get a little confusing in the middle as to what events happen when.

Since most of these songs are solos it’s very important that they be impactful.  Almost every song was moving, but the standouts performances for Jamie were the ones that were either the saddest or the funniest.  James Gardiner is a hoot during “The Schmuel Song”, but will break your heart during “Nobody Needs to Know”.  The same is true of Cathy.  Still Hurting rips your chest open, and both “A Summer in Ohio” and “Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence” will have you rolling on the floor.

Daniel Conway’s set is like living in a dream, and the worst part of moving all at the same time.  The lighting by Andrew F. Griffin was great as well.

This is not a good show to bring your children to see.  There are a few profanities, but beyond that, not anything worse than network television.  The main reason not to take your kids is that this is not a feel good musical.  What this show does best is ask the question of where it all went wrong.  What made these two people that are so crazy about each other grow apart so fast?  There are no easy questions here, but children just won’t be able to engage in that conversation and so the meat of this show will be lost on them.  Ultimately this show leaves you with a lot to think about afterwards, and that’s the best thing a night at the theater can give you.

RJ Rating-9

Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets for this post

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