Posted on December 11, 2012 at 1:23 am

I first encountered the Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables, FL, when they did a very successful production of Songs for a New World eight years ago. Now that same director has taken on The Last Five Years, with the wonderful Janet Dacal playing Cathy, and the response has been very strong indeed. Here’s a commercial they shot to advertise the run, and I thought you’d enjoy seeing these two reviews below. If anyone’s in the Miami area, let me know what you think!

Love soars and fades in “The Last Five Years”
by Christine Dolen
Miami Herald, December 8, 2012

Like nearly everyone of a certain age, Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown knows what it means to have loved and lost.

He evoked that experience artfully in his 2001 musical The Last Five Years, giving the two-character show about the birth and death of a five-year relationship an original twist: The guy’s songs chart the courtship and marriage from start to finish, while the woman’s begin at the breakup and work backwards to the first blush of love.

Brown’s song cycle is playing out once more, this time in an Actors’ Playhouse production at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. Its stars are Janet Dacal, whose recent Broadway credits include Wonderland (she played a grown-up Alice) and In the Heights (she originated the role of beautician Carla, then played the lead Nina); and Christopher A. Kent, who has a long list of Actors’ Playhouse credits in addition to his work at other regional theaters.

The actor-singers have worked together before, playing several different couples in the 2006 Actors’ production of Five Course Love. The Last Five Years is a more challenging show, and not just because of its structure. Brown, who won the 1999 best score Tony for Parade, is a chameleonic composer who draws on pop, jazz, rock, klezmer music and other styles for various songs. Impressive musical versatility from the performers is key to The Last Five Years.

Director David Arisco and musical director Manny Schvartzman have that versatile cast, and they’re especially fortunate that Dacal, a Florida International University grad, decided to come home to work for the holidays.

She plays Cathy Hiatt, an aspiring actress who does round after round of auditions in New York but doesn’t book much more than a summer stock gig in Ohio. Kent is Jamie Wellerstein, a novelist whose career trajectory is ascendant. In 85 minutes of beginning-to-end, end-to-beginning musical storytelling, we learn that Cathy and Jamie fell hard and committed fast, that the idealism and encouragement of their just-married state gave way to career jealousy from her, slippery lies from him.

The radiant Dacal has a glorious voice and the acting chops to make each of Cathy’s songs her own, from the quietly raw “Still Hurting” to the humor of “Summer in Ohio” and “I Can Do Better Than That” to the hope-filled “Goodbye Until Tomorrow.” Kent brings a slightly rough edge and some world-weariness to Jamie, blending well with Dacal on the couple’s let’s-get-married song “The Next Ten Minutes” and Jamie’s end-of-show farewell, “I Could Never Rescue You.” Kent is a likeable guy, Jamie not so much as he sings “Nobody Needs to Know” to a colleague-turned-lover.

Arisco, Schvartzman and a small behind-the-set orchestra, costume designer Ellis Tillman, lighting designer Patrick Tennent and sound designer Alexander Herrin deliver combine to deliver the show’s many emotional shifts.

Cathy and Jamie’s story is played out on designer Sean McClelland’s abstract set, a multi-level affair with small turntables. Painted with watery blue waves evoking a lake in Central Park, topped by a clear canopy with running water that stands in for a wedding chuppah, it is undeniably striking. Notice, though, a shelf circling the back, a shelf topped with vases holding flowers in various stages of decomposition. Given the subject of The Last Five Years, perhaps the set is really meant to be a mausoleum for a marriage.

Love Burns and Chills at Actors Playhouse’s “The Last Five Years”
by Joe Thomason
Miami New Times, December 9, 2012

The minimalist musical The Last Five Years is a dead relationship’s post-mortem. Using his own failed nuptials as inspiration, composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown channeled his universal frustration into this ingenious, 15-part, one-act song cycle charting both the ascent and descent of his relationship with his wife — at the same time.

Cathy’s story begins at the mournful collapse of their marriage and turns back time with each song; Jamie’s starts at the exuberant throes of first love and moves chronologically. They rotate tunes, never interacting directly until they duet at their wedding, when both Cathy’s backward motion and Jamie’s forward movement coalesce. Then the roles switch, and we see how the relationship turned sour from Jamie’s point of view, while understanding the pangs of first love that led Cathy to fall for Jamie.

Actors Playhouse, which opened its production of The Last Five Years this past weekend (it runs through Dec. 30) delivers this high concept with grace, fluidity and nuance, starting with Sean McLelland’s ravishing set design, a tranquil space evoking the earthen tones of a spa. Other productions of The Last Five Years have favored a giant clock towering over the characters’ actions, but McLelland’s take is more artistic than literal, bisecting the stage’s symmetrical halves with a concave hourglass of flowing water. Patrick Tennent’s lighting design gives the entire space an ethereal blue glow.

On either side of the hourglass are rotating spheres that hold simple props and that move with the cycles of life. In stage right, everything is wonderful and new, and on stage left, everything is joyless and moribund. As Jamie, Christopher A. Kent opens on the plus side, as a bookish, Jewish twentysomething who has met a “Shiksa Goddess” (his opening song) in Cathy. It’s a funny enough song, and Kent performs it well, but for some reason, it went over like a wet balloon at Actors Playhouse last night. Jamie’s songs, early on, have a tinge of abrasiveness that Cathy’s don’t, and if anything wins the audience over, it’s Janet Dacal’s performance.

Plucked from Broadway, Dacal is a consummate performer; her heavenly voice reaches glorious highs, and she acts with every part of her body. Her Cathy is an aspiring actress languishing in sweltering summer stock productions while Jamie rises to eminence in the literary world, and the artistic imbalance of their careers is a major cause of their disintegration. The role provides Dacal the opportunity for melancholy, rage and especially humor – during an unforgettably manic audition sequence as well as on “A Summer in Ohio,” a song with wordplay witty enough for the Cole Porter canon – and she sells it all with passion and pathos.

The final bravo is reserved for director David Arisco for pulling off the complex, time-jumping narrative with ease. There is a sensitivity in his handling of the material, in which the brooding contempt of the breakup scenes still suggest the love that once bloomed, and even the whirlwind infatuation of the first-love songs reveal early warning signs of collapse. Arisco, Dacal and Kent see the gray in a musical divided into black and white.

The Last Five Years is at Actors Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, through December 30. Tickets cost $40 to $48. Call 305-444-9293 or visit