Virtual Theater Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS (ICT, Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on May 26, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles,Virtual

HIGH FIVE

Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is contextually brilliant: it is a two-character musical that starts at the end of a five year relationship for the woman, but at the beginning for the man. Her songs go backward in time and his forward. In the middle of the 85 minute, intermissionless show, they meet in the middle, which also happens to be their wedding day. This structure allows us to see a relationship from two different perspectives. He is a novelist who rises to notoriety which such rapidity that he is incapable of meeting his wife’s needs. While he schmoozes in literary circles in New York, her dreams of acting lead her to summer stock in Ohio.

They’re perfect for each other. They’re truly in love. But this is real life, which can get in the way of the real thing. We know right off the bat where it is headed and where it all began. At first, it might seem like Jamie (John Battagliese) and Cathy (Gabriela Carrillo) are in two different relationships, almost schizophrenically so, because the songs they sing (and virtually the entire show is in song) seem so opposite. But this is more than just because of how different the two characters are. It’s because we’re watching his songs in a logicial, chronological order, whereas we are watching hers from the end of the relationship backward.

That Mr. Brown manages to capture our hearts is nothing short of a miracle: his songs are engaging, wistful, funny, melancholic and always insightful. The two-person cast and a small orchestra means this has been revived constantly for the last 20 years. (Northlight Theatre in Chicago, where the show originated, is having a Virtual 20th Anniversary reunion with original star Norbert Leo Butz this very week.) This is one of Brown’s first shows before he became a household name with ParadeThe Bridges of Madison CountyHoneymoon in Vegas and more.

Still, with a thorny structure, no plot intrigue, and only two performers, this musical and its many showstoppers are tough to pull off. Not surprisingly, International City Theatre, which has done awesome COVID-era streaming-Zoom interpretations this season with a captivating Art and the HI-larious Slow Food, again manages to convince us that the performers are on the same stage as each other. Additionally, the engaging and perfectly cast Battagliese and Carrillo use their vocals for character effect more than showing off their pipes — which are terrific indeed. They’re supported by that gorgeous score (in many cases, the cello chords convey as much as Cathy does) that is handled with love by a superb tiny band, led by musical director Graham Sobelman.

I’m not sure if it was intentional by director Jamie Torcellini and Video Editor and Stage Manager Jessie Vacchiano, but a lot of the backgrounds (a field, a theater) seem to have a gauzy look — it substantiates that this is all in memory. And since the absolute best way to see this song cycle is in an intimate space, and you can’t get any more intimate than Zoom.

photos of by Jessie Vacchiano

The Last Five Years
International City Theatre
available on demand Thurs-Sun, June 3 thru 20, 2021
for tickets, ($35), visit ICT

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