Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
PianoFight is presenting Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years through April 22nd. This two-character musical follows a young romance between Jamie (Mischa Stephens), a fast-rising novelist, and Cathy (Courtney Merrell), a struggling actress who fails to reach stardom. It's a 90-minute succession of songs with no intermission or virtually any dialogue, in which he sings and then she sings about their relationship. It's a gorgeous song fest.
Cathy's story is told backward in time, with the conclusion showing the ecstasy of their initial meeting. Jamie's side of how their relationship flowered and died is covered in chronological order. He is self-centered and unfaithful and she is needy and frustrated in the acting field. Jamie tells of how he was just married and becoming a bestselling author, staying in New York with parties and beautiful women throwing themselves at him while she tells of going off to spend a dismal summer theatre season in Ohio.
Courtney Merrell as Cathy is wonderful with pitch perfect resonance. Her face when happy is almost incandescent with joy and when dejected is a death mask of fury and hate.
Mischa Stephens as Jamie is a bit weak on the first two numbers, but he finally gives strong support with his vibrant vocal cords. He is especially in the groove when singing "Shiksa Goddess" and "The Schmuel Song," an entire mock-Yiddish folk tale. Both are melodiously stimulating singing "The Next Ten Minutes" and "Goodbye Until Tomorrow."
Brett Strader leads musical support for the two singers on piano. He tends to drown out the singers in the intimate theatre on the first three songs. He is joined by Midori Nakayama on violin and Joshua Mikus-Mahoney on cello. The show is staged on a bare stage in the intimate theatre that only has 50 seats.
The Last Five Years plays through April 22nd, 2017. For schedule and tickets, visit www.PianoFight.com. PianoFight is located at 144 Taylor Street, San Francisco, just one block from the Golden Gate Theatre.