Thursday, May 15, 2014

Theater Review: The Last Five Years -- Long Wharf

Katie Rose Clarke and Adam Halpin. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Long Wharf's Last Five Years Makes Us Fall in Love with Musical Theater All Over Again
By Lauren Yarger
The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown’s moving study of the birth and death of a marriage, is receiving a stellar production closing out the 2013-2014 season at Long Wharf Theatre.

Katie Rose Clarke and Adam Helpin play the couple, whose story is told from their different perspectives, separately, and from “beginning to end and end to beginning” in an all-sung libretto.  Cathy Hyatt (Clarke) begins at the end of the five-year marriage, singing about how she’s “Still Hurting.” Jamie Wellerstein (Helpin) starts at the beginning by singing about the “Shiksa Goddess” who has made him forget about a long line of Jewish girlfriends his family probably would prefer. He jumps into the marriage, even if he feels a bit shackled. His story moves forward; hers moves back in time.

In their separate reflections, we discover how they met, fell in love, got married, then started to drift apart. Causing the biggest difficulties in the relationship are the couple’s careers. Writer Jamie sees almost meteoric success when the New Yorker publishes his story and he lands a book contract with a large publishing house. He’s off doing the book-tour circuits with his female editor.

Cathy, meanwhile, waits tables in hopes of getting her big break as an actress. She goes on endless auditions (some of the show’s funniest moments), but only lands roles with smaller companies playing in Ohio. She feels more and more out of place in Jamie’s world and strugg;es to feel part of his success.

Meticulously directed by Gordon Edelstein, the actors never interact with each other except for one brief moment when their stories meet at the same time in their relationship – when  Jamie proposes during a peaceful rowboat ride, delightfully staged with simple props and a rotating stage designed by Eugene Lee and when they get married.

All of the locations of the five years represented during the couple’s relationship take place on a stage simply scattered with packing boxes and left-over items indicating the couple’s break up. The numerals of a clock border the circle of the rotating stage and lighting (designed by Ben Stanton) sometimes focuses on the passage of time. Cathy ends at the beginning of the relationship and Jamie concludes that the relationship is over.

Clarke (Broadway’s Wicked, Light in the Piazza) brings a strong soprano and layered nuance to her character. She takes us through the full range of Cathy’s emotions. A single gesture has the audience laughing or crying. Halpin lets her shine and keeps Jamie a bit more reserved, true to character A nice dynamic. Both sing the very difficult score with ease. (Brown’s other musicals of note are The Bridges of Madison County, currently on Broadway and nominated for a Tony Award for best score, and Parade.)

Also excellent is the small pit of musicians housed above the set and under the music direction of James Sampliner. They play the beautiful orchestrations with the heart – and sound – of a full orchestra. Sound designer Leon Rothenberg assists in creating the full effect.

The Last Five Years is 90 minutes with no intermission. This production is so well done that it will make you fall in love with musical theater all over again.

The show runs through June 1 at Long Wharf's mainstage, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Perfromances are Tuesday 7 pm; Wednesday, 2 and 7 pm; Thursday, Friday at 8 pm; Saturday 3 and 8 pm; Sunday 2 and 7 pm. Tickets are $54.50-$79.50. (203) 787-4282;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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