The Last Five Years is a musical that has been on my list of shows to see probably since high school. I was in a cabaret and a fellow friend sang "Climbing Uphill" and since then I've wanted to see the show. I purposely avoided the movie that came out a few years ago and tried to avoid the soundtrack so that when I saw the production for the first time I'd be surprised. I'm glad I did because when I heard that Artistry was producing it as their first production of 2018, I was stoked to see it!
The production tells the story of a relationship that is thriving...but also falling apart at the same time. Cathy, a struggling actress, and Jamie, a successful writer, meet in their early twenties and fall in love. As the story progresses you see their struggles, personal issues and triumphs as their marriage slowly fails and they eventually separate. Now while this story is a pretty normal story about love and heartbreak, it's how the story is told that really makes it a unique and brilliantly written musical.
The show begins with Cathy reading a letter about how her husband is leaving. It starts off as a rather sad and quickly turns happy as she leaves the stage and Jamie eagerly runs around the stage talking about how impressed someone on the phone was with the draft of his first novel. The two contrast each other. As the show continues, the audience slowly realizes that Cathy is narrating their relationship from the end of it moving backward and Jamie is narrating it from the beginning. Around the middle of the show, they finally meet on stage and get engaged. Cathy continues to go backward and as the show ends she is at the beginning of the relationship and Jamie is writing the letter that Cathy originally read at the beginning of the show. It's lovely and brilliantly written. It sounds like such a simple concept but Jason Robert Brown (music, lyrics, and book) crafts and intertwines the story so intricately.
The show is a two-person cast features Ryan London Levin as Jamie and Aly Westberg O'Keeffe as Cathy. Levin acts the part of Jamie wonderfully. He really did a wonderful job of painting a picture of who Jamie is, especially in a musical where the dialogue is hardly there and a large majority of the plot is sung through solo songs. While his acting was great, I wasn't a huge fan of his singing. He hit the right notes and belted a bit here and there but he sounded as if he was pushing too hard. His vocals would get that rough "scruff like" low singing and I don't think it fits the character. However, he did have some wonderful moments.
Now Westberg was breathtaking. Westberg is a frequent cast member in many Artistry shows and for obvious reasons. I've seen her perform before but never to this magnitude and leading a show like she did tonight. Westberg is captivating and perfectly captures the heartbreak that Cathy feels when discovering Jamie's letter and by the end completely transforms to someone who is completely gitty about a new relationship. Speaking as someone who studied theatre, to be able to work backward like is a real talent. To start the show sad and angry really shows off how much she knows. Westberg also has some of the best vocal control I've seen in the Twin Cities showing off plenty of belts and tender quiet moments with soft flicks of vibrato.
The Last Five Years is a simple but beautifully crafted story. Artistry produces this production in their Black Box space which adds even more intimacy to the production and is probably one of my favorite parts about it. It runs through Feb. 11 but tickets are going fast! It was sold out a few months ago and Artistry even added a few more dates which are close to being sold out.
Tickets can be purchased here.