Celebrating its 20th anniversary, The Last Five Years has developed somewhat of a cult following since 2001, and during lockdown the musical was streamed internationally to audiences worldwide.
Jason Robert Brown has been hailed as one of the leading musical theatre composers of his generation, and although his shows don’t often offer the audience easily hummable tunes, they never fail to brim with drama.
The Last Five Years is a song cycle about the ups and downs of the five-year relationship of New York couple Cathy and Jamie. Reminiscent of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, the musical plays with time and the protagonists stories are told in opposing chronologies.
Cathy, a struggling actress, tells her version of events in reverse, from the end of the turbulent relationship, while Jamie, an accomplished writer, tells his tale of the liaison from the start of their first meeting. The two characters sing alternate solo songs and meet only once in the middle of the show at their wedding for the exquisite duet ‘The Next Ten Minutes.’
This production of The Last Five Years is actor-musician based, and the two main cast members alternatively play the grand piano, which takes centre stage throughout the evening. They are also supported by an excellent four-piece band led by musical director Leo Munby.
Jonathan O’Boyle’s slick direction flawlessly bonds all the different performance elements of The Last Five Years into one immersive whole piece. It bounds along with a ceaseless infectious energy and the sung- through ninety minutes simply fly by.
Molly Lynch as the insecure Cathy and Oli Higginson as the hubristic Jamie, reprise their roles from the Southwark Playhouse productions, and are both utterly captivating. They astutely play-out the ebbs and flows of their relationship, and along with the emotive songs they also both display very capable musical comedy skills. Higginson shines with the jocular klezmer numbers ‘The Schmuel Song’ and ‘Shiska Goddess‘ while Lynch histrionically encapsulates the stresses of auditioning in ‘Climbing Uphill.’
This production of The Last Five Years is not only staged beautifully, but gives Jason Robert Brown’s musical a new lease of life in a fresh and vibrant reimagining.
The Last Five Years plays at the Garrick Theatre until Sunday 17 October 2021.