Posted on August 12, 2016 at 4:00 pm
Town Hall. September 12. 8 pm. Cynthia Erivo. Joshua Henry. The Last Five Years. A benefit for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
CYNTHIA ERIVO AND JOSHUA HENRY TO STAR IN “LAST FIVE YEARS” BENEFIT
by ERIK PIEPENBURG
The big-voiced actress Cynthia Erivo has been called all kinds of goddess, from “a goddess of musical theater” to just plain “goddess,” by the theater god Lin-Manuel Miranda. But “shiksa goddess”? Not so much.
Until now: On Sept. 12, Ms. Erivo, a Tony Award winner for her role in “The Color Purple,” will join the Tony-nominated actor Joshua Henry (“Violet”) in a concert version of the Jason Robert Brown musical “The Last Five Years” at Town Hall. (“Shiksa Goddess” is a number from the show.) Proceeds from the performance, which Mr. Brown will direct, will go to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national gun control organization. Tickets go on sale starting on Wednesday at thetownhall.org.
Told both backward in time (her story) and forward (his), “The Last Five Years” is a melancholy musical about the doomed marriage between Jamie, a Jewish writer, and Cathy, his gentile wife. The show had an Off Broadway run in 2002 in a production starring Sherie René Scott and Norbert Leo Butz. Since then, it has garnered a devoted fan base; it was revived in New York three years ago and last year was turned into a film starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
In an interview, Mr. Brown said the idea for the show had come together as he, Mr. Henry and Ms. Erivo collaborated as part of the composer’s residency at SubCulture, a Manhattan performance space that is producing the concert with him. Mr. Brown said it was easy to get Broadway actors to do a benefit on an issue that many in the traditionally liberal theater world agree on. The hard part is finding solutions to the tragedies of gun violence, an issue Mr. Brown said he felt passionately about, particularly as the presidential election nears.
“I don’t have the ability to make a difference at the voting booth; everyone we know is going to be voting the same way,” he said. “This feels like political work that I can do in this election season. I have friends who go to Pennsylvania and knock on doors. This is the thing I can do.”
Mr. Brown said he was not aware of any productions that have cast black actors to play both Jamie and Cathy, roles usually played by white performers. (Wendy Fox, an African-American actress, played Cathy in a 2012 production at the Crossroads Theater in New Jersey.) Although the show won’t change dramaturgically in concert — Jamie will still be Jewish — Mr. Brown said it was exciting to have a black cast, especially “at a time of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how the Broadway community has rallied around” that issue.
“By the force of their talent and their desire to work on this material, they made this thing happen,” he said of Mr. Henry and Ms. Erivo. “Art made it happen, but it becomes a political statement.”
Ms. Erivo and Mr. Henry are no strangers to Mr. Brown’s work. Last year Mr. Henry performed with Mr. Brown in concert at SubCulture and starred in a staging of the composer’s musical “Parade” at Lincoln Center. Also last year, in addition to performing with Mr. Brown at SubCulture, Ms. Erivo appeared in a revival of his “Songs for a New World” in London.