Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Last Five Years / Los Últimos Cinco Años
The Last Five Years tells the story of a failed marriage and was based on an actual relationship in composer Jason Robert Brown's past. It follows two aspirational New Yorkers in their twenties, with some terrific songs by Brown. Jamie is a writer who finds success early, while Cathy is an actress who struggles throughout her career. Over the five-year period of the show, we see them meet, fall in love, fight, have some touching moments together, get married, squabble, fall out of love, and ultimately separate. The fact that they end up separating isn't a spoiler, as the theatrical gimmick of this musical is that, at the beginning of the show, Cathy starts out hurting and heartbroken at the end of the relationship and moves backward in time over the 80-minute show to their first date, while Jamie starts the show at the very beginning of their relationship, eager and feeling he has finally met the girl of his dreams, and moves forward in time through all the pressures and struggles of their lives.
Brown's score is glorious and features varied compositions and ingenious lyrics. However, while the idea to show the five years in Jamie and Cathy's relationship in an overlapping timeframe is original and theatrical, it doesn't always quite work. Due to the shifting time element, the score is a series of solo songs, with only one duet at the middle of the show, "The Next Ten Minutes," which takes place at their wedding. The drawback of having a series of solo songs, even if they are exceptionally well crafted "story" songs, is that there is minimal interaction between the only two characters in the show.
I saw both casts perform and all four actors are exceptional, with clarity in their portrayals, smart acting choices, and voices that soar and hit some beautiful high notes. Since the role of Jamie is based on Brown, and even though he does some things in the story that aren't exactly nice, including having an affair, he does come across as a slightly more positive character than Cathy, who is mostly heartbroken and depressed throughout. However, Rodriquez Wood, Bragg, and their talented quartet of actors make sure that the characters are realistically depicted. By having both actors on stage throughout there is more of a balance to the roles, which helps Cathy come across as more positive than I've seen in other productions of this show.
The English Cast features Sedona Ramonett and Jacob Herrera, and the Spanish Cast costars Issie Ocampo and Vinny Chavez. Herrera and Chavez are both charismatic and animated as Jamie. With well thought out performances, we immediately feel the excitement Jamie experiences when he meets Cathy as well as when he secures his first agent and publishes his book, but we also understand the hurt when Cathy doesn't share his excitement. Ramonett and Ocampo are just as good as Cathy. From Cathy's very first song, when the pain and confusion are apparent when she realizes her marriage has fallen apart, to the comical numbers about her acting and audition experiences, both Ramonett and Ocampo deliver performances that are sensitive, humorous, and full of emotion. While Jamie and Cathy never truly interact with each other until their one duet, the two sets of actors manage to create a clear connection with each other that helps us understand the attraction and connection that originally brought them together. While I had three years of high school Spanish, I can barely speak it, yet I was transfixed watching Chavez and Ocampo perform this beautiful score in Spanish.
The Last Five Years has a slightly confusing story to tell and is a challenging show to sing. For those who don't know the shifting time element ahead of time, an explanation may be necessary so they can truly understand what's going on. United Colours of Arizona's production has a gifted cast and smart direction that help smooth over some of the shortcoming I have with the show and, with over a dozen beautiful songs, two identifiable characters, and a rich story that is both humorous and heartbreaking, it makes for a rewarding theatrical journey to take, whether in English or Spanish.
The Last Five Years / Los Últimos Cinco Años runs through July 25, 2021, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E 2nd St., Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.unitedcoloursaz.org/.
Directors: Sonia Rodriguez Wood and Chanel Bragg
Cast: English Cast: Sedona Ramonett and Jacob Herrera