Review: The Last Five Years, a musical at the Seymour Centre, Sydney

Last five years

If you’re a musical theatre queen (hands up!) living in Sydney, why not drop by the Seymour Centre’s downstairs theatre, the newly named Reginald Theatre to catch a really good work put on by a new production company called Stories Like These. You’ve got until 30 July – and from last night’s house (a Friday night), tickets are selling well.

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.

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2 Responses to Review: The Last Five Years, a musical at the Seymour Centre, Sydney

  1. Owen says:

    I saw LFY many years ago in Toronto and the one thing I remember was the scene where both characters were in the same time frame and I thought how it would have been possibly more engaging if you saw them interacting together more than just that one moment in their lives (but of course that would go against the gimmick of the show).
    Jason Robert Brown was in Vancouver a few years ago performing his songs in a solo concert at Pacific Theatre right across the street from your Mom’s new condo! Unfortunately it was completely sold out and I missed it 🙁

    • andyq says:

      He was actually through Sydney too… but it was when S. and I were out of Sydney. Sent friends to see it, who said they enjoyed it…

      Did you read that his ex threatened to sue him about this show since it was so close to real life, so he had to change a few of the songs…

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