The Last Five Years Review – Different Perspectives

Bryan Mittelstadt, Margaret Berkowitz, Jackie Bonsignore, and Jayde Mitchell in THE LAST FIVE YEARS - Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography
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Jason Robert Brown is credited with book, lyrics, and music for THE LAST FIVE YEARS and has been hailed as one of Broadway’s smartest and most sophisticated artists since Stephen Sondheim (Philadelphia Inquirer) and the winner of three Tony Awards for his work on “Parade” and “The Bridges of Madison County.” Music in the piece reflects multiple musical genres, including pop, classical, jazz, Klezmer, Latin, blues, rock, and folk. THE LAST FIVE YEARS debuted in Chicago in 2001 and was produced off-Broadway in 2002. Time Magazine named THE LAST FIVE YEARS one of the best shows of 2001, with the show receiving a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics. In 2014, THE LAST FIVE YEARS was adapted to film.

Director Josh Shaw – Photo by Matthew Ian Welch

The musical was reportedly inspired by Brown’s failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill. In fact, each spouse sued the other (she for referencing their private relationship and he for creative interference). A settlement was finally reached in which Brown agreed to remove all reference to his ex-wife being Irish Catholic and to omit one show song and replace it with “Shiksa Goddess” to reduce any similarity to their personal story. The show received mixed to good reviews and has been produced internationally. In 2024, Sierra Madre Playhouse revives THE LAST FIVE YEARS for their audience’s entertainment.

Bryan Mittelstadt, Margaret Berkowitz, Jackie Bonsignore, and Jayde Mitchell – Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography

The time is around 2000, and the place is Ohio and New York City. The musical is double cast and delves into the relationship between Jamie (Bryan Mittelstadt/Jayde Mitchell), a budding author on the rise, and Cathy (Margaret Gerkowitz/Jackie Bonsignore)), a struggling actress. The structure of the story is unusual. Jamie tells his story chronologically, while Cathy’s story is in reverse chronology. In other words, Jamie’s tale begins when he meets Cathy and continues through the ups and downs of their relationship, while Cathy’s story begins when their marriage ends and goes backwards until they meet. The only time both are on stage at the same time is at the mid-point, when they are married.

Director Josh Shaw has his hands full as each principal goes in the opposite chronological direction. At times, the tale becomes episodic, spotlighting one and then the other of the pair on a simple stage accompanied by musical director and adept pianist Joshua Foy. Even though an announcer before the play begins explains the structure to the audience, at times, it becomes somewhat disconcerting as one member of the cast of two is depressed and crying while the other is happily laughing. The strongest feature in the show is the lyrics which tell the story in song Sondheim style. The two principals sing the emotionally-loaded lyrics with confidence, but the show seems to lack continuity in their solo relationship roles.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a highly creative approach to musical structure and showcases strong lyrics to tell the story. Audiences who like musicals – especially those with “something different” – should enjoy this production.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS runs through June 16, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 West Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024. Tickets range from $12 to $45. For information and reservations, call 262-355-4318 or go online.


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