“An emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years, the show’s unconventional structure consists of Cathy, the woman, telling her story backwards while Jamie, the man, tells his story chronologically; the two characters only meet once, at their wedding in the middle of the show.”- Music Theatre International
There is a reason why this 2-person musical had a sold out opening weekend. The Last 5 Years by Jason Robert Brown has a cult following in the theatre community. Each eloquently written song is a master of storytelling, a la a monologue. It’s an actor’s musical, for sure. The fact that this piece is being so well received in a tiny town like Hammonton, is due to the foundation of artistry and quality that Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III and Producing Director Ed Corsi have built. I have yet to see a show here that I haven’t be enthralled by and The Last 5 Years was no different.
This production is always meant to have a “less-is-more” design and staging. That concept is in full bloom here, under the direction of Ed Corsi, with the addition of some contemporary elements. Designed by Eagle Innovations Factory, a full circular revolving stage, two side pods, an overhead curved projection screen all adorned in stage blacks. Intelligent lighting design by Chris Miller and Videos designed by Brian Morris gave the simplistic concept a much-needed boost. The videos transitions were expertly transitioned and assisted in the plotline without being distracting. Every time I see a production at The Eagle Theatre, I am in complete awe of the stage management team, here helmed by Rick Trovato. With the revolving stage going one way one moment and the opposite moment the next with set pieces popping on and off, it just made me giddy. I will indicate that as lovely as the revolve was, it was also a bit noisy. Unless the orchestra (hidden quaintly backstage), helmed by Jason Neri, was playing at its highest volume, the intimate moments were hindered with creaking wood.
I must confess, this was my first experience seeing The Last 5 Years on stage. Jenna Pastuszek (Cathy) and Max Meyers (Jamie) truly deliver. Pastuszek’s vocals are clean, crisp, and divine. Meyers commands the stage with his physicality and demeanor bringing back the definition of “leading man.” The often forgotten “Schmuel Song” was the highlight of the night for me. Corsi’s simple staging and charming movement gave us a look into why Cathy falls in love with Jamie thanks in part to Meyers silly “choreo”. Both actors play the age of their courtship clearly and with a dose of angst at the appropriate times. Seeing them for their one and only moment onstage during “The Next Ten Minutes”, brought not only the actors together to prove their chemistry, but also breathed the audience in with them to believe it.
With such an intimate setting with rich material, you get to really look and listen. I’d be interested to see how Jason Robert Brown would have written this piece today in this #metoo world. With watching Cathy’s story in reverse and Jamie’s story as it unfolds, it makes the female out to be more insecure and the male to be suffocated because of it. I wonder, if the roles were flipped or if Cathy’s story was told forward that I wouldn’t have felt the old school gender stereotypes. However, those types of people absolutely exist and therefore this was a true slice of life brought to the stage.
What I enjoy most about going to The Eagle Theatre is that it always feels like a trip, an escape (a “cure for all the nation’s ills”) to some place new for an intimate night out. I try to always bring a new companion with me to experience what this little town and distinguished theatre company has to offer. We stopped by a little cupcake shop, Sweet Creations, and then visited a darling coffee shop across from the theatre, Casciano Coffee Bar & Sweetery, where we had the most delicious frozen hot chocolate. With 15 minutes to spare we headed to the theatre for the 8 o’clock curtain. The staff at The Eagle is ALWAYS extremely friendly and courteous as are the patrons. Tucked away next to the stage is a little nook where Sharrott Winery sells wine by the bottle. Don’t worry, you can take it in to the theatre with you and refill at intermission (although The Last 5 Years is an 85 minute one act).
The Eagle Theatre’s production of The Last 5 Years runs until July 1st.