Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

The Last Five Years

With the paucity of film musicals, either originals or adaptations of stage pieces, each new celluloid entry of a story told with songs carries the burden of proving or disproving that the genre is viable or one reason to prove the opposite. Tasked with making less awkward and jarring characters' bursting into song substituting for dialogue (when filmed close-up in naturalistic settings), it's a tricky thing. In pieces largely sung-through, does the consistency of material musicalized make believability less of an issue without the back-and-forth from speech to song and back again? It's very much an issue when considering the film-going experience, but, with a cast album we can just focus on the listening experience divorced from the visuals, facial expressions, reactions, and what may between numbers on the screen. With The Last Five Years, it's all about the songs; the songs are the story.


Sh-K-Boom Records

Jason Robert Brown's saga of a relationship/challenged marriage told from both points of view, with opposing forces and opposing timelines, The Last Five Years is an intimate one with big emotions. Much is heartbreaking as optimism shatters and it's time to pick up those pieces. With undercurrents of tension twisting or turning tumultuous, the humorous moments bring respite that is whip-smart and well crafted. The soundtrack album doesn't always seem to squarely hit those marks, but this is accomplished work treated with care.

The original stage cast album and the recent recorded revival have somewhat different tones and the same can be send for the film version. Designed for ears attuned to film, there's a general assumption that big, throbbing belting is overkill and needs to be toned down. While there is some gutsy soaring singing, grand climaxes, such things are for the most part kept in check.

The accompaniment sounds marvelous as the musicians maintain the integrity of the piece, shading and deepening its emotion. The basic band is augmented by 13 additional string players, so that lushness wraps its warmth around the score in a fuller and very supporting way. Builds as songs climax are especially exciting, "I Can Do Better Than That" being a prime example. Conducting things and on keyboard is—guess who—Mr. Brown.

Our two stars bring some different shadings to singing this score. They do so without reinventing or going against the grain, staying very much in line of what was heard on the original cast recording. Bt there are times they put a little more or a little less emphasis on certain words and descriptive phrases. Anna Kendrick is at her best when fighting back tears or in demure mode. Her conversational approach is OK, but something is missing here on some tracks. There are some funny and sarcastic comments without the pay-off. But her singing can be keening now and again, lacking the humor and specificity that needs be conveyed. The character's personality comes off as gruff and "tolerating." Also, there are times where words with the potential for laughs are glossed over. Personality, however, does come through, and the romance's twists and turns are clear.

Jeremy Jordan is more successful in creating his Jamie. He can get away from the blueprint. Especially in the comedy songs, he goes his own way with tone and personality. When he laments or rages, it can be powerful stuff.

For me, what was most surprising is that, in the past, I'd be instantly rooting for the woman, but now it's the charm of Jordan that influences everything. She comes off as often petulant and whiney, a real danger for this piece. Jordan seems to have something here—and it's called ease and nuances.

Jason Robert Brown's score exploring a marriage's highs and crashing lows remains a compelling ride in two directions. At times an open wound, a bundle of nerves, and reminders that absence doesn't always make the heart grow fonder. But those hearts break, and some humor breaks the gloom, with "Summer in Ohio" still a laugh-out-loud litany of details of a summer stock life and the self-deprecating audition sequence (both for the female character) prime examples. On the male side surveying females, Jordan brings fresh comic madness to "Shiksa Goddess" which has fresh takes from the very beginning ("I'm breaking my mother's heart..."). Some gravitas is missing later, but he's a welcome presence on yet another cast album. And, as we were recently reminded with the past season's score, he has a way with capturing the wistfulness and yearning in relationships that expiration dates but the love may not.

- Rob Lester

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