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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Second Stage Theatre


  Adam Kantor and Betsy Wolfe/ Joan Marcus

Although Jason Robert Brown is frequently hailed as the most promising post-Sondheim songwriter of serious musical theater, all his musicals have thus far failed to achieve long runs or even critical support during their New York premieres. (His two newest musicals, The Bridges of Madison County and Honeymoon in Vegas, are about to receive their out-of-town premieres.)

Yet all of them, including the abstract song cycle Songs for a New World, the grim historical tragedy Parade, the pre-teen-marketed 13 and, most especially, the two-actor journey The Last Five Years, are frequently produced by regional theaters throughout the country and adored by young performers, especially teenagers.

While The Last Five Years is no doubt attractive to theater companies that are low on cash, it makes for a uniquely constructed, emotionally revealing, absolutely exquisite song cycle that explores a failed marriage from opposite points of view and starting points. (A film version with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan is about to go into production.)

It begins with the underemployed, 20-something actress Cathy making sense of how her marriage to Jamie fell apart. In the very next song, the quickly rising fiction writer Jamie is shown at the very start of their relationship, elated to have met a “shiksa goddess.” For the next 90 minutes, Cathy and Jamie take turns singing, with her moving backwards in time toward the promising start of their relationship and him getting closer to its painful demise. The only time they come together is in the middle of the show during their wedding ceremony.

Considering how many productions the musical has received since its 2002 premiere, its first major New York revival ought to have been better than the musically outstanding but depressingly sterile one now on display at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage, which Brown directed himself. This musical works better with a “less is more” approach. Here, Brown adds unnecessary set pieces and LED screens that detract from the show’s fragile intimacy and his own inventive score. Framing the actors against a towering brick wall was also a bad idea.

The relatively unknown Adam Kantor sings well enough, but his easygoing performance is unremarkable and shallow. Because Betsy Wolfe (recently of The Mystery of Edwin Drood) is so much compelling and nuanced as Cathy, it causes the audience to identify only with her character, resulting in an emotional unbalance.


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