"The Last Five Years," at 2nd Street Theater, was written by Jason Robert Brown and premiered in Chicago in 2001, eventually moving Off-Broadway in 2002. That year the show won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics and was nominated for several more awards. Most recently, in 2014, Richard Lagravenese ("P.S. I Love You") wrote and directed a film version of the musical starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
The story is simple, yet the concept and structure is complex. The audience is introduced to Cathy and Jamie. She is alone and breaking down, crying over the dissolution of her marriage. Jamie is on Cloud Nine, just having met the girl of his dreams. What the audience realizes quite quickly is that Cathy's marriage was to Jamie and Jamie's new dream girl is Cathy. The play is telling the story of their relationship from opposite ends and working its way to the middle; Jamie is at the beginning and Cathy is at the end.
Another fascinating structural choice is that the majority of the dialogue and story are told through the songs that Jamie and Cathy sing separately. It isn't until the end of the first act that they even have a scene together, which they then pass through, with Jamie now heading to the end of the relationship and Cathy heading to happier times.
This two-direction timeline is a powerful and potent metaphor for the entire meaning of the show. Jamie is a successful writer and has a wandering eye, whereas Cathy is a struggling actress, unhappy and ready for life to get better. Very little of their relationship is spent growing as a couple and the solitary nature of their existence is profoundly sad. Growing apart from a person who once felt like the first, last and everything might not be a universal feeling, but if it isn't, it comes awfully close.
Director Mallory DaCosta added another interesting wrinkle to the 2nd Street Theater's show: she built two casts. Ryan Klontz and Natalie Manz will play Jamie and Cathy some nights, alternating with Justin Tilton and Kara Davidson who play the parts on other nights.
"The four we cast stood out the most," says DaCosta. "When we started pairing people together, there was a true magic that came from each couple. The chemistry was unique, much like couples in our everyday lives," she says.
The songs are incredibly catchy, making the choice to go back and see the show again for both casts an easy one. Music director and pianist Scott Michaelson, guitarist Matt Gwinup and bassist Ryan Swagerty are set up in the background as Jamie and Cathy's relationship builds and dissolves. They flawlessly executed the score, while also serving as ghostly witnesses to the proceedings, never influencing the events except through their haunting melodies. Combined with multimedia film from AMZ Productions, "The Last Five Years" is a memorable and lovely show about the moments that bring people together and the years that drive them apart.
There are so many things that can end a relationship. That is why it has always been popular to tell stories of doomed romance and the struggles inherent in making love work. Even though audiences still love a happy ending, it is the story that ends brutally that provides catharsis. "The Last Five Years" is about a breakup, but it's told in a way that not too many pieces of pop culture (especially musicals) have the courage to try.
"The Last Five Years"
May 13 to 28, 7:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
2nd Street Theater, 220 NW Lafayette Ave., Bend
Produced by Thoroughly Modern Productions