The Last 5 Years

BATS Theatre, Wellington

15/05/2008 - 24/05/2008

Production Details

Her story starts at the end of their relationship; his story begins on the day they meet.
A stunningly simple, provocative piece exploring the cause and effect of love, ambition, and regret.

Tony-Award winning composer Jason Robert Brown’s fresh and contemporary musical The Last 5 Years presents an intimate look at Jamie and Cathy, two young people who fall in love, get married, and grow apart over the course of five years. Funny and uplifting, the show captures some of the most heartbreaking and universally felt moments of modern romance, as two people’s powerful love for one another struggles to overcome their differences and divergent dreams.

Nigel Edgecombe is a director, actor, and tutor whose work has been seen throughout NZ and the USA. His first piece by Brown, Songs For A New World sold out at BATS to thrilled audiences. He has starred in Cabaret, West Side Story, Pirates of Penzance, and Little Shop of Horrors, with Wellington audiences captivated by his powerful performance as Thenardier in Les Miserables.

Sarah Lineham charmed audiences countrywide with her critically acclaimed performance of Peggy Lee in Fever! A Peggy Lee Story. As guest soloist with the Vector Wellington Orchestra last year, Sarah showcased her dramatic and comic versatility with hits from the great Broadway musicals. She has starred in West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and as Helen in Troy – The Musical.

Tom McLeod is one of NZ’s foremost arrangers and musicians, working with The Phoenix Foundation on their album Happy Endings and Tim Beveridge on the album Come Rain Come Shine, recorded in LA for Sony Music. Tom has been music director for numerous television shows including The Tribe, Amazing Extraordinary Friends, and Karaoke High.

Lisa Maule is a well-respected name in Wellington theatre, and her lighting design brings a touch of pure magic to this production. Lisa’s recent work includes I’m Not Rappaport at Downstage Theatre and The American Pilot at Circa Theatre.

Megan Corby is vocal coach for the show. She’s a freelance singer who holds a BA in Theatre and Film and completed her MMus in Performance Voice in 2007. Megan tutors Musicology at the NZ School of Music, performs with NBR NZ Opera Company, and runs a thriving teaching studio which encompasses an array of vocal styles.

"Compulsively enjoyable… poignant and ironic"– The New York Post
"Brimming with persistent melodies, thoughtful lyrics and a compelling story"Associated Press
"YOU BETTER GO SEE IT. Exhilaration so intense that it brings tears of joy"The Chicago Tribune

Bookings: 04 802 4175 or   

Jamie Wallenstein & Director - Nigel Edgecombe
Cathy Hiatt & Co-Director - Sarah Lineham
Musical Director/Piano - Tom McLeod

Bass -Nick Tipping
Guitar - Nick Granville
Violin - Claire Macfarlane
Cello 1 - Jane Brown
Cello 2 - Emily Watt
Bass (2 nights) - Aaron Stewart
Violin (2 nights) - Sayuri Ando

Lisa Maule lighting design
Vocal Coach - Megan Corby
Poster Design - Tim Christie
Lighting Operator - Sam Downes
Publicity - Brianne Kerr  
Movement Coach - Catherine Seward

Love lacking

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd May 2008

It starts off as fairly trad musical fare, boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, live happily (and this is where it veers off the path most trodden) for a while then it all falls apart. Jamie and Cathy started off with such promise, he as an aspiring and talented young writer, she as a singer looking for her big break.  As his career rockets away, she struggles with life in the suburbs and his rapidly expanding ego.

There is a hint of subversiveness in The Last 5 Years, surely there can’t be many musicals where you hear the ‘f’ word in the lyrics.  Writer and composer Jason Robert Brown also plays with the timeline.  We start with the break up but then follow Cathy’s life back to the point where she met first met and fell in love with Jamie, while his trajectory runs the other way and he’s ending the marriage.

To help keep track, there are half a dozen different shaped boxes which the singers move to – Jamie from our left to right, Cathy from right to left. 

Performers Nigel Edgecombe (also the director) and Sarah Lineham are fine singers, and clearly enjoy the vitriolic numbers which they belt out with gusto.  But there is no hint of passion between the two, from the moment they enter and perform a silly giggly dance together.  An outside director would perhaps have been a better idea.  The musicians play live on stage, strings and keyboard, and they rock. 

The problem here though is not the staging, though that’s an issue with a small black box theatre is not an ideal space for a musical.  It’s the characters.  The Cathy, as written, is a whiney pain in the neck and it’s no wonder Jamie left her. Jamie, meanwhile, is arrogant beyond belief and you just want to kick his giant ego to touch.  We don’t care about these two people, in fact we wish they’d just go away. 


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Musical marriage needs theatricality

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 19th May 2008

Like the old Broadway musicals I Do! I Do! and They’re Playing Our Song, The Last 5 Years is a musical two-hander about a couple’s relationship which, unlike the I Do! I Do! couples’ marriage that lasted fifty years, lasts only five. But like They’re Playing Our Song it is about a troubled relationship. It is told in fourteen sung-through scenes.

The show has a gimmick: Cathy’s story starts stage left at the end of the relationship and Jamie’s starts stage right on the day they first met. Song by song they move across the stage until they meet in the middle for the show’s only duet, Next Ten Minutes, in which he proposes to her on a boat on the lake in Central Park. They move on; she to stage right and the beginnings of the romance, he to stage left and a lifetime of regrets.

Jamie Wellerstein is a young writer, Cathy Hiatt is an actress. His career is on the up and up with his novel being reviewed in The New Yorker; her career is in trouble as she struggles with his success and her failure to find work.

The production at Bats is as simple as can be: only six small rostra or boxes, a sheet for a backdrop, no props, no lighting effects, and no sense of place. I had no idea they were meant to be on the Central Park lake until I read a plot summary in Wikipedia!

Nigel Edgecombe and Sarah Lineham, both fine singers and strong performers, were using radio microphones, the sort that make the singer look as if there is a boil on his or her chin. Either one of them wasn’t working properly (the first song was completely unintelligible) or the six piece band of experienced musicians under the musical director Tom McLeod was too loud for such a small theatre. A bit of both, I expect.

Ironically, the one comic song about Cathy’s audition for a musical in which she complains the rehearsal pianist is playing too loudly was crystal clear. I can see the attraction of the show for a singer. The dynamic songs cover a wide variety of musical styles. However, it is a musical and needs some theatricality to give it piquancy, otherwise it ends up as a just a concert version.


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Engaging insights and intrigue

Review by John Smythe 17th May 2008

Cleverly constructed, and inspired by the breakup of his own first marriage,* Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years covers the time frame in question, first in a waltzing ‘dumbshow’ prologue, then in song, from opposite ends.

He has left her a note, which provokes her first song, ‘Still Hurting’, in which every line starts with "Jamie": the first hint this whole song sequence was written by the guy. (I’m reminded of the egocentric who waxes lyrical about himself then says, "But enough about me. What about you? What do you think of me?")* As the show progresses, she – Cathy – works her way back to the start of their relationship.

Jamie Wallenstein’s first song, ‘Shiksa Goddess’, reveals he is breaking his Jewish mother’s heart because he’s falling in love with Cathy Hiatt (raised Roman Catholic). "My people have suffered for thousands of years but I don’t give a shit," is how he experiences being in love. "You are the story I should write," he declares. Apparently she was a blank page before he came along. And so he moves forward through the five years.

It emerges that his career as a writer is in the ascendant, while hers as an actress is going nowhere; well, to Ohio to do Summer Stock. It will be after such a season, when they have been missing each other, that he will propose and they will get married, which provides for a bit of performing together as they cross over: she to the past; he to the future.

Cathy is depicted as insecure and lacking in self esteem while Jamie is the genius who will go so far as to write a parable especially to inspire her, about an old tailor called Schmuel who finds a magical clock that gives him endless time to create the dress of his dreams. What a man.

At a book signing, she tries to appreciate she has a role in his success – ‘I’m A Part Of That’ – confessing she has subsumed her life into his, while he pays most attention to his work. Later Jamie deals with her lack of willingness to "trot along at the genius’s heels" at yet another publisher’s party by telling her to shut up an listen to him, declaring "I will not fail so you can be comfortable, Cathy," and begging her to put her dress on and play the game.

When he wakes up in bed with someone else – ‘Nobody Needs To Know’ – he talks/sings about Cathy, which presumably pleases the other woman no end. Meanwhile, Cathy is singing back to happiness, the start of it all … In the final song she sings "Goodbye until tomorrow’, after their first date, while he is sings "Goodbye" full stop, "I could never rescue you …"

The Last 5 Years, then, offers 90 minutes of flawed people traversing common emotional experiences that may seems clichéd in drama but lend themselves well to a musical treatment – in this case touching on a range of genres from romantic ballads and jazz to rock ‘n’ roll..

Nigel Edgecombe (Jamie) and Sarah Lineham (Cathy) – who are also director and co-director respectively – go to the heart of their characters’ feelings, moment by moment, using the music to convey their changing states of being and leaving us to pass judgment according to our own experiences and dispositions.

Given the human insights, their clear true voices, and the intrigue of the converse timelines device, there is plenty happening to engage the audience despite the lack of ‘production values’ (the stage is bare but for six boxes of various sizes) and a sometimes less-than ideal balance between their radio-mic’d voices and the six-piece show band, conducted by musical director Tom McLeod.

While I appreciate this sort of musical production is written to be amplified and mixed, it’s a challenge to get the balance right in a place as small as BATS.
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*According to Brown’s ex-wife took him to court after The Last 5 Years opened in 2001 claiming it "too closely depicted her marriage" and the settlement involved his having to make extensive revisions. "According to reports, alterations were made in the female character, a number of lyrics were changed, and one song was dropped in its entirety (to be replaced by another). The present, revised version premiered Off-Broadway in April, 2002."


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