Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Last Five Years, Nov 26, 2016 ****

Written & composed by Jason Robert Brown, by Vic Theatre Company
fortyfivedownstairs, until Dec 11, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sat Nov 26, 2016
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print. on Tues Nov 29, 2016 & later online. KH
 Verity Hunt-Ballard & Josh Piterman
Be warned! If you are feeling vulnerable about love lost, then this intimate and poignant musical about the end of a marriage, The Last Five Years, may send you into a spiral of sadness or regret.

American writer and composer, Jason Robert Brown, based this two-hander on his own crumbling marriage – a choice that led to Brown’s ex-wife threatening to sue him for the similarity of the story to their own relationship.

The inimitable and accomplished Verity Hunt-Ballard plays Cathy Hiatt, a 23-year old, aspiring actor who is under-confident, under-achieving and, ultimately, unsuccessful.

Josh Piterman plays Cathy’s boyfriend-then-husband, Jamie Wellerstein, who is an ambitious, emerging novelist whose writing career rockets to success during the five years of his relationship with Cathy.

Brown’s complex, compelling and original structure portrays Cathy’s story running backwards from the lonely, agonising end of the marriage to its bright-eyed beginning five years earlier, while Jamie’s chronology travels forward from their first meeting to his cruel departure from the marriage five years later.

In Chris Parker’s slick, seamless and assured production, we witness both characters at their best and worst, and our sympathies bounce from one character to the other as they both reveal their virtues, flaws, dreams and vulnerabilities.

Played by a tight, off-stage band (musical director, Daniel Puckey), Brown’s songs are musically rich and varied in style, and the versatile Hunt-Ballard does them justice with her thrilling voice, fine vibrato, excellent vocal control and bright timbre.

Her opening rendition of Still Hurting is heart wrenching, See I'm Smiling is a moving glimpse of Cathy’s attempt to stay positive when Jamie is inattentive and she is jealous, while Summer in Ohio is a whimsical song and dance and Cathy’s Audition Sequence is a comical glance at the brutal audition circuit.

As Jamie, Josh Piterman uses his raunchy, bold voice in the upbeat, Shiksa Goddess, a song that celebrates his new non-Jewish girlfriend, a more sensitive tone when Jamie pledges his support for Cathy’s acting endeavours in If I Didn't Believe in You, and during Nobody Needs to Know, when Jamie reveals his secret affair.

Cathy and Jamie’s timelines coincide only once, in the romantic duet, The Next Ten Minutes, when Jamie proposes to Cathy and they sing sweetly about their joyful future together.

The final scene poignantly overlaps two songs when Jamie packs his bags to leave, singing I Could Never Rescue You, while younger, hopeful Cathy sings Goodbye Until Tomorrow, as she waves goodbye to her beloved Jamie at the beginning of their relationship, expecting him to return the next day.

The Last Five Years is a tender, passionate and heart-breaking story with a marvellous repertoire of songs performed by two distinguished musical theatre performers.

By Kate Herbert 

Director, Chris Parker 
Musical director, Daniel Puckey
Set design Daniel Harvey

Still Hurting - Cathy
Shiksa Goddess - Jamie
See I'm Smiling - Cathy
Moving Too Fast - Jamie
I'm A Part of That- Cathy
The Schmuel Song - Jamie
A Summer in Ohio - Cathy
The Next Ten Minutes" - Jamie & Cathy
A Miracle Would Happen/When You Come Home to Me - Jamie/Cathy
Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence - Cathy
If I Didn't Believe in You - Jamie
I Can Do Better Than That - Cathy
Nobody Needs to Know - Jamie
Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You - Jamie & Cathy

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