The Last Five Years at Artistry

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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.

The Music Man at Artistry

The Music Man is a timeless classic that has been produced by many professional and amateur theater companies, adapted into a television movie and a film. The show's success led to a long-running 2000 revival on Broadway. It was also made into a television adaption, film adaption and countless of professional and amateur theater productions. Basically, it's a favorite among many and a staple in anyone's musical theater CD collection. Artistry Theater in Bloomington, MN has picked this production for their 2017-2018 season and has already had massive success. The production is sold out and it runs from Oct. 14 - Nov. 5.

The Music Man, directed by Angela Timbermann, takes place in River City, Iowa. The fast-talking con-man Harold Hill creates quite a buzz when he comes to town. Swiftly, he convinces the town's parents to pay for a variety of uniforms, instruments and more for the children of River City to start a band. He offers them classes and to direct...however he knows nothing about starting a band. While he plans his departure from the town with his reward, he unexpectedly falls for the town's young librarian. This production has an unforgettable score including Broadway favorites such as Goodnight My Someone, Ya Got Trouble, Marian the Librarian, Shipoopi and my personal favorite Til There Was You.

The thing about this particular production is that it is nothing short of an impressive production value. The cast, dancing, set and lights are all fabulous. The set was minimal but served its purpose. The actors are all talented and dance wonderfully with Michael Gruber's choreographer (who also played Harold Hill). It's energetic at times, silly at others and engaging for the entire audience.

The acting by Harold Hill and Marian Paroo (played by Jennifer Eckes) were the exact leads that Artistry needed to lead this show. Harold was and is the star of the show. The tone of his voice is rich and beautiful even after intense dance breaks. While Harold is suave and charming, Marian parallels with being typically uptight but with a golden voice. She effortlessly hits the highest of notes throughout all her solos.

Artistry is clearly doing something right because, at the time of seeing this production, it was completely sold out. They continuously produce well-known musicals that resonate with their core audience and knock it out of the park. However, this production was not my favorite. The only thing wrong with this production is that it's The Music Man. No matter how talented the cast is I just am not a fan of the actual script. Personally, I think it drags a bit and can suffer from pacing issues and this one did.

As I mentioned before the cast is stellar and that should not take away from the fact that I didn't like the actual show. Artistry is an amazing theater that produces extremely high-quality theater. Even though The Music Man is sold out, be sure to stop by their website because Artistry is producing so amazing pieces later this year and next including The Last Five Years and Follies!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Artistry

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Recently I moved from the north suburbs to the Twin Cities because I work in Bloomington. Since moving I've been seeing a lot more theatre and I recently saw my first production at Artistry. I had always heard that Artistry performed some high-quality theatre so I was excited to experience it for myself. I sadly failed to see Little Shop of Horrors at Artistry so I was determined to see Joseph.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a very well known musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. The musical, mostly sung-through, is based on the "coat of many colors" story of Joseph from the Bible's Book of Genesis. Joseph is one of 12 brothers and sons to Jacob. After receiving a coat of many colors from his father, the rest of the brothers become jealous of Joseph and he is sold into slavery by them. However, through his story, he goes through a story of rags to riches as he rises to become the Egyptian Pharaoh's royal vizier. The story is also about "overcoming odds and fulfilling one's destiny." *Disclaimer for anyone who hasn't seen this production, it is not a super "churchy/religious" vibe to it, so don't let that stop you from seeing it.

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The set was a fairly basic set and the staging did not include too many props with the exception of a few chairs for some dance numbers. There were about 3 panels on each side of the stage with hieroglyphics on each panel. The panels were white so that the lights that shined on them could easily illuminate the entire panel with a variety of colors, similar to Joseph's coat. The center included a long staircase that went up stage. The costumes were not the traditional costumes you'd see at a production of Joseph. They were a mixture of browns, greys, blacks with an almost grunge/post-apocalyptic vibe to it. I was not a huge fan of the costumes that the company were wearing. At times they felt inconsistent however I do appreciate the risk they took in not designing the traditional Joseph style costumes.

The cast in this production is unreal. The ensemble, known as "the Company," is strong in both acting and singing. There are also a lot of notable members of the company who play other characters including Brandon A. Jackson who plays the Pharoah. He had me rolling with laughter and also roaring with applause and his ridiculously high vocals. The entire company owns the stage with their non stop dancing. Michael Matthew Ferrell does a fantastic job of using a variety of levels on the stage mixed with his choreography.

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When it came to the leads let's start with Jennifer Grimm, the Narrator. She was absolutely stunning. I was amazed at the unbelievable amount of control she had in her singing. I could have listened to her riff, sing and belt all night. Hey Jennifer! When is your album coming out? Cause I'm first in line for pre-ordering it. John Jamison was Joseph and let me just say...wow. His rendition of "Close Every Door" was hauntingly beautiful. The way it was like no other version I've seen. His falsetto gave me goosebumps because it was so beautiful. Plus huge perks to Artistry for casting an African American actor to play Joseph. Jamison is the type of actor that I would go to a show just to see him if he's performing in it. He commands the stage with his presence and commitment to his character through the entire show.

I'm not the biggest fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber or the show Joseph however this production specifically made me a fan. The casting is spot on and it is not the normal Joseph that people are used to. This production runs through August 27th and tickets can be bought here.

*Photos by Devon Cox/Artistry