It is a welcoming trend to see local companies tackling new musical material. Sure, classics such as The Sound of Music and Oklahoma! have their place but there is a wealth of new material out there that deserves to be seen.
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years is one such jewel. A one-act, two-hander musical that looks at a couple’s short but tempestuous relationship. He is an up an coming writer, she a struggling actress. They fall in love, argue and split up. All sounds pretty standard musical fare but Brown’s witty score has a twist. We follow Cathy’s life in reverse chronological order while we follow husband/ex Jamie’s story in a more conventional order. Story arcs briefly overlap in the middle while they marry but, apart from that, they wend their separate way.
It’s not an easy plot device to pull off but one that Half Hour Call’s production manages with aplomb. Simple staging, complete with onstage band, focuses attention rightly onto the couple and provides an effective frame for Brown’s song cycle. Think Lloyd Webbers Tell Me On A Sunday meets Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and you get the idea.
Comic numbers mix with soul-searching ballads to create a musical map of hope, love and despair as the balance of power shifts in the couple’s relationship.
At the heart of the piece are two impressive performances from Birgitta Kenyon and Christopher Longman. It’s a tough call to hold an hour a half show with just two performers but it’s a challenge the duo rise to admirably, delivering the complex score with deceptive ease.
Credit should also go to Paul Schofield’s musical direction of the onstage band. Played with passion and energy the rich score soars through the Theatre Royal.
The Last 5 Years has gained something of a cult following since its premiere and this spot on production shows why.
Jason Robert Brown has shown that big is not necessarily better and that musical theatre can be topical and fresh. With this production Half Hour Call show they are a company to watch.