Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Last Five Years
The biggest twist is the convoluted narrative structure. Each of the two lovers gets to tell his or her story, but not in the same order. Cathy Hiatt (Kir Kipness) tells her side from the end to the beginning. Jamie Wellerstein (Adam James) tell his from the beginning to the end. They alternate, each taking a turn to sing a song, meeting once, in the middle of their stories, at their wedding.
That's the charm of this musical, the odd narrative and the duel points of view. The songs are lovely, and the backward/forward narrative is not as confusing as it sounds. Take away the narrative trick and the alternate song-telling, and you would find a rather conventional love story. It's basically A Star Is Born with a gender swap.
Jamie experiences powerful early success as a novelist while Cathy struggles as an actress. It's not his success that bothers her so much, it's the attention he receives from attractive women. She becomes a pain about it, and he finally succumbs to temptation. Jason Robert Brown put together the music, lyrics, and book based on personal experience. The story was originally so close to his own failed marriage, his ex-wife threatened suit. He made some changes to avoid the conflict.
Victoria J. Liberatori directs this Aux Dog Theatre production with both confidence and pizazz. While each actor sings from a separate desk with just a shared bed between them, there are strategic moments when they enter each other's space, becoming the narrative-appropriate person for the story. These are charged moments that bring the intellectual construction into full emotional color.
Kipness and James were clearly cast for the beauty of their voices. They both show vocal range and precision, and they both capture the emotion flowing through the building promise of love and the devastation of its demise. As they sing separately, it's hard to imagine the chemistry between the two characters, so it's that much more important to include the handful of brief interactions sprinkled through the play. These become "a-ha" moments when the audience realizes that, yes, they are connected.
The set (Liberatori) is simple and appropriate. The lighting (Ryan Martinez) is well done, which is important in capturing the range of emotions that swing back and forth between the two characters. They're not experiencing the same emotions at the same time, since they're acting out difference stages of the love story. Light helps keep this straight. Since the story is told in music, the musical direction by Nathaniel Flake and Mindy Pretzele Sampson is critical. It's delivered with taste, with power, and with delicacy as needed. Pretzele Sampson as the pianist is superb. Terrific show.
The Last Five Years through June 11, 2017, at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. General admission is $23. ATG members and seniors 65+ are $20. Service members, first responders, and union members are $19. Students are $17. Reserve tickets at auxdog.com or by calling 254-7716.