I hope so, because I think it’s a good idea to support good theatre. Years ago, on a trip to New York City, I’d heard a CD in that shop in the theatre district that sells scores and CDs from all of the Broadway shows (name… anyone?). I liked the sound and grabbed it. It was Jason Robert Brown, and a set of songs called “Songs for a New World” – not a show, but instead of collection of songs written for shows, and put together into a review. A few of the songs I adored. Tuneful and soaring and… well, sad. A number of the characters in Brown’s songs are those who have given up their dreams, compromised themselves. There’s a sad sense of loss and betrayal (and occasional bursts of huge take-the-world-by-its-throat confidence). There’s a romance about romance itself.
The themes of the musical The Last Five Years (written in 2001, a show that premiered in Chicago, had a short-run off-Broadway, and has since been performed around the world) fit right into what I associate with Brown. Jamie, a writer, is confident with a career that’s taking off. Cathy is an actress who struggles, and seems stuck in compromise, settling for a not-so-great gig in Ohio, and not wanting to be a hanger-on to Jamie’s rising star. Over five years, Jamie’s story starts at the beginning, but Cathy’s starts at the end and travels, like backwards in time, like Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. It’s an interesting conceit, and mostly works though if you haven’t read the program notes before, you might find it a bit confusing. I found it more like watching how puzzle pieces fall into place though than having much emotional punch, unlike Merrily, where I found it unsettling and sad to see the characters getting happier and happier, but only through travelling backwards in time.
Generally, though, I liked the songs. I thought they were clever, tuneful and varied, and allowed actors to display an emotional range. The story came together well enough – new love, trouble in love, break-up – a believable enough story (apparently based on Brown’s own life, and he had to change the original script after his ex threatened to sue him). My only quibble is that his songs constantly have the characters calling out to each other, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Cathy, Cathy, Cathy… There are only two characters in the play so we know who they are! The repetitions of the name-calling sometimes seems a substitute for a more nuanced way of expressing emotion.
But why quibble? Let’s talk about the performances. I’ve seen Marika Aubrey in a number of cabaret shows and showcases. As soon as she sang her first song, I was impressed with her quiet and sweet intonations. She’s got a gorgeous voice, and I think she interpreted the songs marvelously and showed great acting chops. Rob Mills I’ve seen in Wicked, and still feel sorry for him for having to wear a really unflattering pair of tights. Here, I thought he had real star quality. My partner and I couldn’t keep our eyes off of him. A versatile voice, great performance. I thought both performances were generally flawless. It helped to be backed up by a great set of musicians (loved the cello) and the intimacy of the small theatre leant the air that the actors were really singing emotions and songs, rather than ‘performing’.
Sydney’s not necessarily bursting with musicals, so I try to encourage people to go when they’re on – support local artists, directors, and theatre. And I do recommend this show. It’s a great night out.