Last chance today to catch commendable ‘Last Five Years’

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

What a sad and poignant story is The Last Five Years, staged by SRO Productions III for the past two weekends at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City. The story – the romance, marriage and break-up of two folks who move New York City to make their fame and fortune as a writer and actress — is revealed during key points in their relationship, via song.

As with an opera, the singing is constant in this Jason Robert Brown show, with little or no dialogue, a musically exhausting marathon for the two singers to pull off.

And pull it off, they did. As the cleverly written story progresses, he starts five years in the past, exhilarated by new romance and progresses to the cold-hard-facts present. She starts in the here and now, disillusioned and heart-broken, and tells the story backward to the time the starry-eyed couple met.

Jamie, played by Andrew Simek, succeeds as a best-selling author, while Cathy, played by Jess Brookes, fails as an actress. The relationship founders–as one career soars to the top, and one never gets off the ground.

Simek is a terrific actor, with a versatile and compelling voice to match. His songs are high points in the show – especially “The Schmuel Song,” the “Shiksa Goddess Song” and the utterly heart-breaking “If I Didn’t Believe in You.”

While Brookes has some comic moments in the “Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence” and the “The Summer in Ohio” song, her depiction of Cathy is one-dimensional. There’s little depth of character needed to make listeners feel empathy for her, as you do for Jamie. Understandably, she doesn’t want to live in the shadow of a successful husband, but she comes off primarily as jealous and mean-spirited. Brookes has two singing levels, loud and TOO LOUD. Her microphone should have been turned down, but even with less amplification, there’s too much shrill in her voice.

Great applause for musicians, playing some of the most difficult licks ever written for a pit orchestra. The unusual scoring is for two cellos, bass, piano and violin, played by Vicky Gordon (piano), Ruth Fisher and Andy Chadwick (cellos), Douglas Diegert (violin) and Beth Bartlett (upright and electric bass), and they’re all to be commended. The musicians all come from classical backgrounds, yet are adaptable enough to switch on a dime into jazz, pop music, country, Klezmer, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Hats off to SRO and director Scott Fisher, for tackling a show that falls well beyond the bounds of traditional musical theater. The final performance is at 2 p.m. today (May 3) at the Goodwill Theatre, 46-48 Willow St., Johnson City. Tickets are $20; call 800-838-3006 or visit sroproductionsonline.com.

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1 Response to "Last chance today to catch commendable ‘Last Five Years’"

  1. Caitlin

    I thought the goal of the Broome Arts Mirror was to encourage residents of Broome County to experience the arts in our community, not to pick apart a young actor who put in months of hard work into an extremely challenging role. SRO is a community theater organization, not a professional company where the actors are being paid.

    I do believe in writing honest reviews, and I believe you are entitled to your opinion. However, I think that there is a tactful way to express your thoughts that could in turn be used constructively by an artist or an organization as a means for growth.

    “Brookes has two singing levels, loud and TOO LOUD.” and “there’s too much shrill in her voice” read as an entry from a mean girls burn book. These statements are callous and trite and serve no constructive purpose.

    I was also in attendance of a performance of The Last 5 Years. I found Ms. Brookes to have a beautiful singing voice. The “shrill” sound that you referenced is her strong belt, which is the new preferred style for musical theater singing, and is not an easy style to master by any means.

    I hope that Ms. Brookes was not at all discouraged by your review, as her talent is a major asset to our theater community.

    The Last 5 years gives us an insight to the struggles of being an artist. We see the vulnerability of the two main characters who value their self worth by their level of success and recognition for their art. I hope you keep that in mind next time you decide to write a review.

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