2002-08-23
The Houston Chronicle
Everett Evans

Jason Robert Brown, Tony-winning composer/lyricist of Parade, cements his reputation as one of the musical theater’s brightest young writing talents with this heartfelt chamber musical.

In contrast to Parade‘s period setting and operatic scale, The Last 5 Years is an intimate, contemporary, highly personal piece portraying the joys and heartaches of a young couple.

Jamie is a novelist finding his head turned by his first taste of success; Cathy, an aspiring actress struggling to make a breakthrough, with little luck.

Brown piques interest by placing the two on different time tracks.

Cathy’s story begins at the end of the marriage, moving back in time to the first meeting. Jamie’s story follows the normal chronology, beginning with the first date and ending with the breakup.

As their songs alternate (they meet in the middle, at the wedding), the format allows unexpected juxtapositions, both funny and poignant.

Brown has a fresh, quirky musical style. While one occasionally wishes for more conventionally "melodic" lines, several ballads, especially for the more sensitive Cathy, have an aching beauty.

His lyrics convey emotion with intelligence and wry humor.

Still Hurting, A Part of That, I Can Do Better Than That and the closing pair Goodbye Until Tomorrow and I Could Never Rescue You express complex ideas with an authenticity rare outside of Stephen Sondheim.

The score benefits from the strong performances of Norbert Leo Butz (Thou Shalt Not) and Sherie Rene Scott (Aida), both ideally cast. With Butz’s dynamism and charm and Scott’s controlled intensity and sarcastic humor (especially in her comic showstopper A Summer in Ohio), these two have the vocal skill and personality to keep the characters sympathetic even when revealing less-than-attractive traits.

With its true-to-life protagonists striving to make love last forever and not quite making it, The Last 5 Years is the rare musical whose substance is recognizable as something out of everyday life, albeit heightened in impact. Small and mid-sized theater companies likely will ensure that this piece finds its deserved place in the repertoire.

Grade: A-


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