The Last Five Years won the Drama Desk awards for best music and best lyrics in 2002. Now running at Eagle Theatre, this charming 85-minute musical stands out more for its novel storytelling conceit. In their song cycle, Cathy and Jamie separately recall their failed marriage, each remembering the breakup from a different time perspective.
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, Five Years is loosely based on his own failed marriage. Cathy begins at the painful end of the marriage. She sings "Still Hurting" and works back five years. Jamie starts at the beginning and proceeds chronologically. While the songs hold their own, with help from Jason Neri's five-piece band, melodies do not linger, and lyrics are more declarative than witty. It is the ironic pathos of the inverted storytelling that grabs the spotlight.
Jenna Pastuszek and Max Meyers are a captivating pair. Both sing with clear, strong voices (though Pastuszek may have the better pipes). They shine as actors, too, transforming each song into a dramatic episode. You feel affection for Pastuszek's Cathy, a struggling actress who never makes it onto the main stage. In songs like "Climbing Uphill" you love Cathy's sense of humor as she tussles with both a flagging career and her fear of being elbowed out of Jamie's life.
By contrast, Jamie is a successful and precocious writer. In "Shiksa Goddess" he is enraptured with Cathy. But, as the marriage bogs down, he flirts with other women, then has an affair ("Nobody Needs to Know"). Yet you do not despise him. Rather, you feel sad that Jamie has lost the joy of being in love that Meyers made you feel so endearingly in the early song episodes.
Director Ed Corsi envelops the story in a pervasive image of circularity. The stage, thanks to the set design by Eagle Innovations Factory, revolves around a hypnotic backdrop to bring Cathy and Jamie separately into view, each time sporting a new costume by Sean Quinn. Overhead, Brian Morris' curved video screen presents shifting backgrounds — the Manhattan skyline, a lake in Central Park.
Cathy and Jamie meet just one time, at their wedding scene in "The Next Ten Minutes." In exquisite isolation, they are also on stage for a final duet, where Cathy exults in her new love while Jamie is in his ending despair. By this time, you know them very well and it is a moving finale. You may also know yourself a little better, too, as this engaging show has the power to stir up personal memories.