As much as I love the spectacle of a grand Broadway show I also love a small intimate production with only a couple actors and minimal props on stage. Such was the experience I got yesterday seeing Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years by the Luminaire Theatre Company at the brand new Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in Taylorsville.
Now when I say minimal I mean it. The auditorium had a set of bleachers, a white fabric background and 2 actors with boxes stacked to make tables, a bar, a Christmas tree etc. The new building is absolutely beautiful so it caught me off guard to see a stark production in such a grand space. It helped set the tone for the rather sad story.
If you don’t know The Last 5 Years has a unique structure. It tells the 5 year relationship of a couple named Jamie and Cathy. It starts with Cathy at the end of the relationship and Jamie at the beginning. They begin separate but as the timelines merge they come together in several scenes. The musical was based off of Brown’s failed marriage to Theresa O’Neil. In fact O’Neil sued Brown for disclosing the details of their relationship within the show. He even changed a song to make it less like his ex-wife for the settlement.
As you can imagine with such closeness to the source material there is a rawness to the music that comes through especially in Cathy’s songs (Brown did not make himself look great in the show. Got to give him credit for that). Her first 2 songs are probably the highlight of the show with ‘See I’m Smiling’ and ‘I’m Still Hurting’.
In this production Cathy was played by Ashlyn Anderson and Jamie by Isaac Carillo. At first I felt they didn’t have the best chemistry but the more I thought about it the more that makes sense because they are a failed relationship. There should be something that doesn’t quite fit between the two of them and not just in the songs. These are not easy songs, and they both did a great job. It’s such a vulnerable thing to be out on stage with nothing to hide behind. Just you singing and they should both be very proud of themselves. I was very impressed.
A show like The Last 5 Years won’t be for everyone. It is overall somber (although it does have some funny moments particularly when Jamie sings ‘The Schmuel Song’). It also has adult language and explores themes of infidelity and obviously divorce. If that doesn’t sound fun to you than it’s a show you should skip. For me, I like to shake things up and go to different kinds of shows, so this was a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately I saw the final night of performances, but I’m excited to see what Luminaire does next and will definitely be making it out to the new arts center again soon.
9 out of 10