THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a show loved by many musical theater people. Jason Robert Brown wrote and composed an emotionally compelling story of two people, Cathy and Jamie, New Yorkers who fall in and out of love over the span of five years. Cathy tells the story backwards while Jamie tells the story chronologically. They meet in the middle for only one song, the wedding scene.
The Flip Theatre in Minneapolis is a brand new company founded by John Lynn and Ben Bakken, both talented and highly respected in the Twin Cities theater community. The show takes place at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, which is the perfect setting for this intimate piece.
Britta Ollmann plays Cathy Hiatt and Bobby Gardner plays Jamie Wellerstein. Britta was a bit too mousey for me. When she belted, it sounded pretty but she seemed too weak for the role. Many of Cathy’s songs are deep and I was hoping for more. Some of her acting choices were odd and I had a hard time connecting with her until the second act. Bobby played the role very quirky and goofy, which is clearly in his comfort zone due to his background in improv at the Brave New Workshop. He displayed reckless abandon, which made it believable because he owned the role. A two-person show is very hard to pull off and this one is even more intense because of the writing. With that being said, I believe the two of them did a good job with the material. It was enjoyable but I didn’t cry and I usually do, so that’s saying something.
Jason Hansen who is the musical conductor and keyboard player, is incredibly talented. Not only does he sound phenomenal, he is a great leader. The five-piece band comprised of a keyboard, cello, bass and violin sounded top notch. They were center stage near the back, which was nice to see them accompanying the two actors. Unfortunately for the actors, there were times when the music outshined their performances.
The costumes and set design stood out to me. The two characters changed every so often between formal attire and every day clothing, which was nice to signify the passing of time. Set pieces were simple but beautiful. Multiple hanging windowpanes, two doors, moving boxes, a bed, desk, chairs and a few other small items were used. At times the lighting was too dark and I’d rather the two not be miked but those are minor tweaks. Director John Lynn, made smart choices by keeping the show simple so we could focus on the storyline. There was nothing over the top or distracting.
One thing that is blatantly apparent is that everyone has different opinions of the show. Afterwards when I spoke with my friends and family different people sided with different characters and performers. Although I didn’t favor Cathy in this production, many of my friends did both as a performer and the victim. This show will get you thinking and talking which is important and in my opinion, one of the main points of a successful good show.
My suggestion; listen to the 2002 cast recording with Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz. It will give you an insight into the show and the brilliant music before immersing yourself in this heart-breaking story. In fact, I’m listening to it now, stunning. For more information check out: www.fliptheatre.org
Rating: To Be