It’s impossible not to get a warm fuzzy glow when watching Jason Robert Brown’s impossibly sentimental musical, The Last Five Years, which opened last night at St James Theatre.
It’s so very nice. There is a gorgeous girl who dreams of being a successful actress and a boy who finds fame too early. They meet and fall in and out of love.
Only, they don’t actually meet that often. Brown’s clever construction has us watching the relationship from both sides – and both ends – with the lovers interacting only briefly as their orbits collide in the middle.
And I rather liked it. Yes, I know that the story has its faults. It is a rom-com plagued by the sort of cliché so beloved by male writers.
Once again, it is the girl who is struggling to be successful, and yearning for a life of domesticity and babies, while the man has fortune and fame handed to him on a plate.
This hunter-gatherer’s ego becomes so understandably out-sized by his early success as a writer that he feels he can do anything. Pursue the lovely Cathy, woo her, wed her…and then play around while she waits at home for him to return.
But you can’t help like Jonathan Bailey’s Jamie – at the start. He has the easier task of playing his storyline from beginning to end – as opposed to coming at it from the other direction.
So he’s young and exuberant, like an excitable puppy. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed he bounds around the stage, sharing confidences with the audience, basking in the glow of having his first book published.
After ticking off one major item on life’s bucket list he spots Cathy and is determined to have her. But after another tick off the list we see him baulk at domesticity and commitment. There’s all these beautiful women, and they all want him. Worst, he’s like a kid in a candy store.
We first see Samantha Barks, as Cathy, picking up the discarded wedding ring and reading Jamie’s farewell note. Her heart is torn apart and she’s furious at his selfishness and misogyny.
Everything had always been on his terms. He never thought of her, supported her, or considered her needs.
As the show progresses she becomes younger, more animated, and more in love. The central scene, when they finally play out their marriage together, is SO romantic. She looks astonishing in a beautiful wedding gown and he looks like the cat that’s finally got the cream.
They make a charming couple, with each actor enchanting the audience with their winning turns at playing out their roles in this lovely show.
The Last Five Years is almost entirely sung through. There is very little dialogue. But the musical numbers are glorious.
Sit back and enjoy the lyrics which are funny, emotional and heartbreaking.
I’ve seen Jonathan Bailey a few times in plays yet had no idea he had such a good singing voice – and with such a wide range. Occasionally, some of his top notes lacked strength but, overall, he gives an accomplished performance.
He’s amusing in Shiksa Goddess as he lists the number of nice young Jewish girls he’s dated; pensive in Moving Too Fast and engaging in the wonderfully sung fable of a tailor’s obsession, The Schmuel Song (the lyrics of which would make a very good play of its own).
Dramatically, Bailey impresses with a nuanced performance, that takes him from enthusiastic young college grad on the threshold of life, love and happiness to a jaded divorcee, alone with his fame.
Musical theatre star Barks breaks your heart with some stirring ballads. I Can Do Better Than That and Still Hurting give your emotions a workout while we all laugh at her amusing rendition of A Summer In Ohio which charts her career setbacks.
This is very much Brown’s baby. He has written it, directs, and is responsible for the wonderful music and lyrics (played beautifully by a great on-stage band).
His ideas for staging could be better. Props slide on and off, not always smoothly, although the marriage scene, played out in a little row boat in front of video screens of water, brought out my syrupy, sentimental, side. There might almost have been a little sigh.
If you enjoy a good, slushy, rom-com then you’ll love this 85 minute show but I just wish writers would remember this is the 21st century and beef up women’s story-lines to make them less submissive.
The Last Five Years runs at St James Theatre until December 3.
The Last Five Years
The Last Five Years squeezes an entire relationship into 85 minutes of glorious songs, winning performances, and lovey, gooey, sentiment.