THE LAST FIVE YEARS, 3Star***, London, To 03 12

Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown.

St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA to 3 December 2016.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Thurs & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 30 mins No interval.

TICKETS: 0844 264 2140.
Review: William Russell 2 November.

Yet another ancient Off Broadway musical
This two hander, which opened off Broadway in America in 2001, was first seen in London at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2006. Just why it has been revived is hard to understand. There is nothing much wrong with the show, but it is a pretty banal tale about the breakdown of a five year marriage between Cathy and Jamie, a couple young New Yorkers. It reveals no insights into anything very much, although the gimmick is she starts with the break up, he ends with it, so they are performing their songs at different stages in the five years as each warbles their side of the story. The result is hardly worth the bother.

The score is reasonably tuneful and the couple, Samantha Bark as Cathy and Jonathan Bailey as Jamie, who alternate the songs as they look back at why things went wrong, are undeniably pleasant company, work hard and are easy on the eye.

The trouble is one does not much care either way what happens to their marriage.

Jason Robert Brown’s lyrics, when one can make out the words, are fine and his score tuneful enough, although his ballads tend to be the sort with endless crescendos requiring the singers suddenly to start bawling out the words rather than sing them as they hit that required high note. It is one thing to hit and sustain a note, but even the simplest word when the time comes to belt it out seems to also include every vowel sound there is, a fairly common habit among miked singers in musicals these days, and a practice common among many American musical composers. The results are not very pretty to listen to but mitigated by the rather good band which includes two cellos and a violin.

Another problem is that Ms Barks gets some pretty duff numbers at the start so that her co-star, Jonathan Bailey as Jamie gets all the applause for what seems much too long into the action. In due course she gets her chances, but it is slightly disconcerting to say the least. Mr Bailey as Jonathan, a writer with a tendency to be a party boy, has loads of charm and Ms Barks is very pretty but they are hardly stretched by what they are required to do and apart from presumably being quite cheap to put on there seems no great reason for doing it.

The Last Five Years was named one of Time Magazine’s ten best of 2001 and won Drama Desk Awards for Best Music and Best Lyrics, however, so it must have something to recommend it, although this staging – the set is a lot of brick walls painted a particularly hideous lilac into which bits of furniture slide from time to time – really does not show what it is. For that Mr Brown, who also directed it, has only himself to blame.

Cathy: Samantha Barks.
Jamie: Jonathan Bailey.

Director: Jason Robert Brown.
Musical Director: Torquil Munro.
Musical Supervisor: Tom Murray.
Original Design: Derek McLane.
Lighting Designer: Howard Hudson.
Sound Designer: Nick Lister for Autograph Sound.
Costume Designer: Gabriella Slade.
Video Design: Jeff Sugg.

2016-11-03 10:29:16

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