Courtesy of Tipping Point Theatre
An emotionally fraught musical about a passionate relationship faltering in a location where everyone is chasing their dreams, Jason Robert Brown's "The Last Five Years" is fascinating to watch unfold on stage.
Centered in New York City, “The Last Five Years” - which just held its opening night at the Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, MI - chronicles the courtship of aspiring actress Cathy Hiatt (played by the convincing Angie Ferrante) and down-on-his-luck writer Jamie Wellerstein (the sly and charming Nick Yocum) at different points in their love affair. Cathy begins their romance from the end and chronicles their romance back to their first date, while Jamie starts from the beginning and goes forward in motion through their divorce. They cross paths in their story only once, meeting in the middle with Jamie’s proposal at Central Park. While this “song cycle” musical approach looks profound, it can be confusing.
Still, the narrative is rich, and the five-year relationship mirrors that of Brown’s own success, as things start to crumble when Jamie’s first novel is published and becomes an overnight sensation (Brown’s first Off-Broadway show was produced when he was 25 - roughly the same age as Jamie). While his career soars, Cathy never achieves the type of gratification she needs and both characters deliver heartfelt renditions of songs that tell their story from both perspectives.
As it stands, “The Last Five Years” serves as a romantic hyperbole, and Matt Foss’s direction and staging is executed well to help guide the audience during the turmoil and friction of this relationship. Considering it’s just Ferrante and Yocum on stage, singing their fair share of high notes, “The Last Five Years” moves quickly from song to song, and clocks in at a smooth 80 minutes. Great use is made of Tipping Point’s unique space, where one side of the stage represents Cathy’s domain, and the other Jamie’s. Lighting is a key factor in helping differentiate where in the timeline we are, and Rachel Nardecchia’s vision is quietly powerful. The same goes for the two-piece orchestra (that’d be music director Bradley Lieto on piano and Ann Marie Jones crushing the violin) who claim residency on stage for the entire duration of the production.
Of course, it always helps if your two leads possess the right touch of chemistry and spunk. Yocum surprised me on several occasions with his ability to bust out a few tunes on his guitar as he navigated the stage consistently. However, I would argue that Ferrante carries a heavy load equal to, if not more than, Yocum. Honestly, I would find it challenging to start from the end of the relationship and backtrack, but Ferrante - despite some minor yet noticeable vocal flaws early on - sells Brown’s song cycle. When the two collide after the closing song “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You” - Yocum and Ferrante offer an emotional turning point that this critic will not soon forget.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS continues through March 3rd at Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, MI. Tickets can be purchased TippingPointTheatre.com.