It’s not unusual for two people to look back in a failed relationship in totally different ways.
However, the musical “The Last Five Years” goes one step further. A couple who fell in love, married and now are splitting, look back at the relationship in opposite order: Cathy starts at the breakup and goes backward, while her lover-then-husband Jamie recalls their courtship, marriage and divorce in chronological order.
Moreover, in the two-person show – with music, lyrics and book by Jason Robert Brown – the characters don’t interact directly except in a wedding song when their recollections meet in the middle of time.
“They’re not living in the same place,” said Mathew Ratz who plays Jamie.
The fact that Jamie is Jewish and Cathy is not (though we don’t know her religion) is mentioned but not given as a reason for the breakup, said Lauren-Nicole Gabel, who plays Cathy.
The religious difference is “one of the many details about these two characters that adds to the complexity of the show.”
Instead, suggested Ratz, “the real reason for the breakup is that each of them entered the relationship to fill a void. Each looked to the other person like a cork.”
“There isn’t a moment,” he added, when they turn to each other and say, ‘I’m proud of you.’ Success vs. no success is another big theme.”
The musical – which is co-presented by The Montgomery Playhouse and Theater @ CBT, a theater group sponsored by Congreation B’nai Tzedek, a synagogue in Rockville – had been long on the shortlist of plays of the Playhouse, said Gabel.
“It’s a great show and easy to do, in the sense that it’s a [very] small cast and doesn’t involve a lot of props or scenery,” she pointed out. “At the same time, it demands a lot from its actors and does need strong direction and music direction. The entire show is sung.”
Moreover, said Ratz, the music is challenging. ““It stretches across genres – including klezmer, ballads, rock, classic Broadway and pop – and is vocally very demanding. Brown is one of those composers [that] auditioning actors are asked to avoid because his compositions are so complex.”
Ratz is a “traditional baritone” who has to reach a higher range for “The Last Five Years.”
The show has a cult following, he added. No less a theater star than Lin-Manuel Miranda used a track from it – “Nobody Needs to Know,” as a cello line in ‘Hamilton.’”
The musical uses a four-piece orchestra, more common to shows in the 1960s than in the time it came out – 2001.
“The voice works like a fifth instrument in show,” Ratz said.
“The Last Five Years” – Brown also penned “Parade,” “Thirteen,” and “The Bridges of Madison County” – played off-Broadway, has enjoyed numerous productions, and became a movie in 2014, but it could be a legal dispute that might have up to now blocked its road to Broadway.
Theresa O’Neill threatened legal action on the grounds the story of the musical represented her relationship with Brown too closely, and Brown changed the song “I Could Be in Love with Someone Like You” to “Shiksa Goddess,” to reduce the similarity between the character Cathy and O’Neill.
The show, which runs under 90 minutes, has no intermission.
Dave Dossey is directing; Paige Rammelkamp is the music director. Elizabeth Weiss is co-producer and artistic director for Theater @ CBT. David Jones is co-producer and executive producer for Montgomery Playhouse.
“The Last Five Years,” co-produced by The Montgomery Playhouse and Theater @ CBT runs Sept. 14-16 and Sept. 20-23 at the Randolph Road Theatre, 4010 Randolph Road, Silver Spring. Tickets are $22 and can be purchased through this link: https://www.montgomeryplayhouse.org/season/season-2018-2019/the-last-five-years/.