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The Last Five Years is one of those great Jason Robert Brown masterpieces, full of his trademark intricate and moving instrumentation. The show follows the intimate and unconventionally told story about two young people who fall in and out of love. Jamie, the male partner, tells his side of the story chronologically while the female partner, Cathy, shares her side backwards. Musical narrative is the true driving force of this show, with dialogue sparsely written throughout. It is no surprise, then, that this musical requires two actors with consistent voices and lots of emotional potential. The Yadkin Cultural Arts Center recently braved this feat with their production of The Last Five Years, directed by Jessie Grant.
The wonderful opportunity that this musical provides is conceptual freedom. The technical requirements are quite minimal, leaving plenty up to the director's interpretation. It was interesting to see how the creative team took advantage of this opportunity. Jacob Reeves' lighting design is clever, with the stage lit in opposing pools of blue and orange-red hues to represent the separate personalities of the two characters, blue for Jamie and red for Cathy. The set, designed by the director, reflects these two colors with a split down the middle. These choices create a visible representation for the concept behind this production: two separate people who pass each other and meet for a brief moment in time.
This compelling vision also appears in the show's staging, which quickly gives the audience an understanding of the two individual characters. Grant has created this vision via moments of isolation on each partner's respective side of the stage and effective blocking.
While the blocking established a sense of division between the characters from the get-go, the set's minimalist design showed less distinction. This design certainly allowed for quick set changes but did not contribute to the audience's understanding of who these two individuals were. The simple set gave the audience little idea of the world of the play. To the actors' credit, however, great gesture work resulted from the absence of props and set dressing.
Both actors had a tangible chemistry that illustrated their difficult relationship. Charles Kluttz's Jamie was quite charismatic. He provided lots of energy to the beginning of the show, contrasting well with Brittany Darst's first emotional and grief-stricken ballads. As the musical progressed and Jaimie's journey comes to the more trying parts of his relationship with Kathy, Kluttz's melancholic moments of grief felt somewhat forced. Fortunately, his bright head-chest mix suited the musical style of the show, allowing room for some severity as Jamie's life spirals.
Darst had almost an opposite journey, her Cathy grew more endearing as the show continued. Although her tall vowels and crystal-clear diction clashed with the raw pain she was working through early on, Darst created a sunniness in Cathy's happier songs that was heartwarming, leading the audience to sympathize with her towards the end of the show. Overall, both actors showed the emotional and vocal stamina to endure 75 minutes of intimacy, strife, and laughter.
Yadkin Cultural Arts Center has succeeded in creating a clever and interesting production of The Last Five Years. Let it be known that this show is no easy feat by any means. The cast, crew, and creative team have created a unique story that touches on love and youth. Moreover, they unveil one of the beautiful elements behind this narrative: humans and our relationship to time. This particular thread inspires its audience to reflect on our own lives, the passing of time, and those who have come into their lives just to leave them. It is woven into songs, staging, and one silver watch worn on Cathy's wrist. Details such as these meant so much to the audience.
The Last Five Years continues through Sunday, September 11. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.