“Last Five Years” tells timeless story
Tympanium Euphorium’s production of “The Last Five Years” was not a conventional musical. Written by regarded composer Jason Robert Brown, this show depicts a relationship that progresses over the course of five years from two different perspectives. Cathy (Becca Myers ’18) tells the story from the end of the relationship and moves backward in time, while Jamie (Derek Scullin ’18) tells the story in chronological order. Though they sing about shared moments, Cathy and Jamie perform their songs alone and mime the other one’s presence. The only time the two of them sing together or even touch is when they meet in the middle of their narratives — their engagement and also the wedding.
Director Lilly Hecht ’18 did an incredible job creating a visual timeline of sorts, using the sides of the stage as representations of the dark and light in their relationship. The right side of the stage represented the darker side of the relationship. Cathy begins the show there, singing about a note in which Jaime says goodbye. The show begins on a melancholy note and then seamlessly transitions to the hilarious song “Shiksa Goddess” where Jamie, on the left of the stage, expresses to Cathy how happy he is that he is finally dating a non-Jewish girl. The two meet in the middle of the stage on a park bench during the song “The Next Ten Minutes,” in which he proposes to her. At the end of the song, the two switch places — Jamie moves to the darker side and Cathy moves to the lighter one.
Myers and Scullin made their characters their own. Scullin’s best number was “The Schmuel Song,” in which he sings a story he has written to Cathy on their first Christmas together. The song is about an old tailor named Schmuel asking for more time to complete a dress for a girl that he likes.
At the end of the song, Jamie gives Cathy a watch to show her that he will always devote time for her to pursue her acting dreams. Scullin nailed the Eastern-European impression and switched back and forth between narrating the story and becoming the character of Schmuel. His enthusiasm and joy made the audience smile and see the love between Jamie and Cathy. What also made this song unique was its use of klezmer music fused with a Motown funk refrain.
Brown writes in a variety of styles and Scullin could keep up with each one. Whether a ballad, a gospel song filled with soul, falling madly in love or finally letting go of all of his anger, Scullin’s acting was effortless, and his emotions were evident.
Myers’ best song was “A Summer in Ohio” — a cry for help as she spends a summer doing regional theater in the middle-of-nowhere. Cathy complains about the eccentric people she meets there and the horrors she goes through in order to pursue her dream.
Myers was able to switch back and forth between a variety of characters and accents. Like Scullin, Myers could also switch between emotions. Another highlight for Myers was “When You Come Home to Me.” Cathy sings this song during an audition for a show. However, the song also contains Cathy’s inner monologue surrounding her complicated emotions about the audition process. Myers’ distinction between her onstage and backstage personas was thrilling and humorous. As she starts the show depressed and upset, Myers’ ascension into head-over-heels euphoric love was fascinating to watch.
The minimal set pieces were all on stage during every scene, and stagehands moved them during the song transitions. I enjoyed this stage layout because the show was more of a cabaret than a traditional musical.
While the set pieces established the scene, they did not add to the plot — Jamie and Cathy’s words alone painted vivid pictures of their memories together.
The show ends with an ecstatic Cathy on the left side of the stage saying goodbye to Jamie after their first date. Brown’s brilliant decision to begin and end the show with goodbye sequences shows that one decision in life can change an entire trajectory. In “The Last Five Years,” the audience is able to see this sequence of events, and that even if one element changed, the inevitable can be prevented.