The Last 5 Years
The troubles of the original show are well-documented elsewhere, but they largely stem from re-writes forced on Brown by his ex-wife, Theresa O’Neill’s lawsuit, which she brought about because she felt that the musical too closely echoed their actual marriage. Apparently, a lot of the Catherine material was replaced, in accordance with the lawsuit’s settlement, but oddly it was that material - and the character of Catherine - that I warmed to. The material for Jamie on the other hand only accentuated for me that his career and his self-admiration were the great loves of his life, rather than Catherine.
Jamie’s version of the marriage is told in chronological order, Cathy’s in reverse, with the intersection of their stories occurring on their wedding day - an interesting, if sometimes confusing device, and certainly not an overused one. The best of Brown’s numbers, such as “Shiksa Goddess,” “I’m A Part of That,” “The Next Ten Minutes” and “A Summer in Ohio,” remind us that this composer/lyricist (who wrote the compelling and under-appreciated score for Parade) can write keenly observant, humorous and concise lyrics, and has impressively eclectic musical tricks up his sleeve. But the show is weighed down by a few songs that just don’t work, especially a Christmas/Hanukkah misfire entitled “The Schmuel Song” which just seemed interminable, not to mention self-indulgent.
Director David Hsieh’s bare bones staging of the show keeps the focus where it belongs, on the actors entrusted with making us care about Catherine and Jamie. In the cast I saw this past Saturday, Jessica Skerritt scores another bulls-eye in her young career. Not only does Skerritt’s vocal quality suit the rangy demands of the role, but her dramatic interpretation of Brown’s lyrics is always spot on. Her “Summer in Ohio” takes the show’s best number and then boosts it up a few notches on the laughter meter. On “I’m A Part of That” she succinctly captures Catherine’s realization that she can never be the most important part of Jamie’s life, and she ripples with anguish in the show opener “Still Hurting,” where she successfully tackles the wounded, post-breakup side of Catherine.
Jason Kappus has the tougher role of Jamie, and, with his blonde, corn-fed, all-American boyish looks is anything but typecast. But his attractive bari-tenor voice, energy and stage presence win us over, helping make the character more likable than Brown writes him. Kappus’ stand-out solos are a go for broke rendition of “Shiksa Goddess,” “Moving Too Fast,” and the darkly honest “Nobody Needs to Know.” He and Skerritt glow with warmth in the wedding numbers; and the finale, in which she sings the hopeful “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” to his resigned “I Could Never Rescue You,” is undeniably poignant.
The choice on Hsieh’s part of using the other two casts of the show (Emjoy Gavino/Tim Glynn and Mariah Anne Taylor/Jadd Davis) as cameo ensemble characters during their off-nights from the featured roles really adds nothing to the mix. Mark Rabe’s musical direction and piano accompaniment are solidly professional as usual, though the acoustics at the East Hall Theatre venue are often less than ideal, despite Rabe and the cast’s best efforts.
ReAct Theatre is an admirably ambitious and enterprising company that is always interested in giving a berth to show’s infrequently done in Seattle, and at some of the most affordable ticket prices in Seattle, you may well want to give this ably done version of The Last 5 Years ninety minutes of your time.
The Last 5 Years runs through October 2 at East Hall Theater, located at 1525 Tenth Ave on the second floor of the Oddfellows Building, at the corner of 10th & Pine on Capitol Hill in Seattle. For more information visit ReAct’s web-site at www.reacttheatre.org.
Photo: David Hsieh