To round out its 80th anniversary season, Schenectady Civic Players is presenting a musical, “The Last Five Years,” a two-person, one-act work written and composed by Jason Robert Brown.
The theater group’s usual fare is plays, with a musical every few years. Not only is it including a musical this season, but a musical that is almost void of dialogue save for a couple of phone conversations between the two characters.
“The Last Five Years” tells the story of a twentysomething couple, Catherine (Grace Abele) and Jamie (Shawn Hahn), who are at the end of a five-year relationship. The show is set in New York City where Catherine, a Christian girl, is an aspiring actress, and Jamie is a successful author and “nice Jewish boy.”
You might ask, if you already know the ending, then why would you go? The reason is twofold. One is the creative way in which Brown tells the couple’s story. Jamie relates their story from beginning to end and Catherine from end to beginning. The other reason is the music.
Up for the challenge
The score drew the directors and actors to the show. “I fell in love with the music,” Hahn said. “It’s kind of like one of those dream shows that you always wanted to do.”
’The Last Five Years’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays from May 9 to 11, 14 to 18.
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 382-2081 or www.civicplayers.org
Val Lord is the show’s musical director. She said that the 80-minute show is virtually sung through, which demands a great deal from the two characters, as well as the instrumentalists. The actors couldn’t rehearse for three hours straight, the usual rehearsal schedule for other shows.
Abele notes that many of her songs require that she belt them out, something that her voice teachers have never allowed her to do. So she jumped at the chance. Hahn said that the music is in the upper part of his range and very precise.
The musical accompaniment calls for six musicians; SCP’s production uses four — a keyboard, violin, cello and bass, with Lord adding the guitar part on a synthesizer.
It is through the lyrics of the songs that the audience learns about the characters and their life together. “Brown writes in a very conversational and very comfortable style,” said Duncan Morrison of Schenectady, the show’s director. “The music does not fight the words; they absolutely complement each other right down the line,” he said.
What is challenging for Hahn and Abele is that they do not interact during the show except for one scene, their wedding, where his forward and her backward timelines intersect.
Morrison’s challenge is to keep the show understandable for the audience as they follow the same story, from two different viewpoints, that is told in opposite directions. “You have to keep an eye on making sure that every scene is somehow emotionally tied to the last, although it’s an entirely different time period,” Morrison said.
Bliss and pain
What the cast and crew tout about the show is how people universally will be able to relate to it. “It really speaks to the human condition in our relationships with each other,” Hahn said. The audience gets to witness how the couple falls in love and then deals with relationship issues such as balancing career and home life and infidelity.
Most everybody has been in a relationship and experienced the joy of falling in love and the despair that comes with a relationship’s end. What SCP hopes that audiences take away from the show is that despite the pain, there was a great deal of joy, too, so that there was value in the experience.
“It kills to be at the end of a relationship, but it was worth it,” Hahn said. “That, for me, has become a real focus of the show.”
The end of the show juxtaposes the bliss of meeting and falling in love with the pain of parting.
Morrison said that the show “will catch people off guard, but at the same time charm them thoroughly.”
He notes that “The Last Five Years,” which premiered in Chicago in 2001 and ran off-Broadway March through May 2002, has become one of the most produced shows in regional and college theater across the country.
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Categories: Life and Arts