The arc of a relationship is portrayed in the Asolo Rep's The Last Five Years.
By Kay Kipling
We’ve all known the pain of relationships that don’t work out, but most of us can’t begin to convey the sweep of emotions that accompany love and loss as does Jason Robert Brown in the two-person musical The Last Five Years, now showing in an Asolo Rep production at the Historic Asolo Theater.
Brown definitely mines his own personal experience of a marriage that ended with this story, told entirely in musical numbers with a wide range of styles, from pop to rock to more typically theatrical tunes. The songs are performed alternately by Jamie (Sam Osheroff), a young writer who gets his wish for success and fame, and his wife, Cathy (Kris Danford), an aspiring actress who doesn’t; and what works to make The Last Five Years especially poignant is the way those years are recounted. Cathy’s first number (Still Hurting) is sung at the beginning of the show but the end of the marriage; she then travels back in time over those years, while Jamie starts at the beginning and ends at—well, the end.
In just 90 minutes (with no intermission), Brown manages to pack in pretty much all the excitement and joy of the discovery of first love (Shiksa Goddess, I Can Do Better Than That) to the sadness of the gradual disintegration of togetherness (If I Didn’t Believe in You, Nobody Needs to Know). There are out-and-out amusing songs, too, like A Summer in Ohio, where Cathy entertainingly describes her nightmarish experiences working in summer stock, and her audition sequence—a familiar story to anyone who’s ever worked in theater.
The action all takes place on a simple set consisting of panels that project different images to take us from the couple’s New York apartment to a riverfront in Ohio to the small-town world Cathy grew up in. Danford and Osheroff push around a couple of benches to provide different seating options. And their costumes, particularly Danford’s, reflect the changes in their lives, too, from youth and simplicity to a more New York style of sophistication.
The actors, who are married in real life and also currently starring in the Asolo Rep’s Searching for Eden, actually seem less chemically right for each other than you might expect in this show, but perhaps that’s because of their characters’ own issues. Danford sings her songs with ease (the pair only has one number where they’re singing directly to teach other); Osheroff struggles a bit with the tempo and the range of some of his, especially early on, although he delivers emotionally on tunes like The Schmuel Song and I Could Never Rescue You.
But it’s hard to come out of The Last Five Years unaffected; Brown’s beautiful music and the story the lyrics tell are just too touching and true. The production continues through Feb. 28; call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org.