‘The Last Five Years’ at Metropolitan Youth Arts Theatre

It helped- not hindered- Composer/Lyricist Jason Robert Brown’s aim that his two leads, though meant to be in their twenties, are in fact played by actors (Kyra Smith as Cathy Hyatt and Ben Cherington as Jamie Wellerstein) in their late teens. There are two character shows, like Love Letters which work as vehicles for mature older performers. With The Last Five Years, though, it may go on being staged as often as Love Letters, youth is an absolute must.


For those unfamiliar with the story, The Last Five Years is a musical play using song and dialogue to explain a five year relationship which includes marriage between novelist Jamie and aspiring actress Cathy. His career succeeds, and  hers does not. She tells her story from the end of the marriage to her first meeting with Jamie–in reverse order, while Jamie, when we first meet him, has only begun to fall in love. He will fall out of love–later. Only in the middle do the two interact and marry, while singing beautiful “The Next Ten Minutes” in which they vow to stay together. The knowledge of what has happened to this couple, and what will happen as the play progresses, makes the whole story heartbreaking and poignant.

But grim? Anyone seeing the show knows that it isn’t in the least. Due to the two actors’ acting and singing skills and the wonderful songs, Jamie and Cathy elicit rollicking laughter from the crowd. What are the funniest tunes? Jamie’s story within a story of “The Schmuel Song” about an old world tailor shows why Jamie could become a successful novelist; it is also a star vaudeville turn showing his physical and vocal agility. Cherington might have been channeling Fiddler on the Roof and the audience loved it. Smith, like her character, can turn funny and sad in the same song. When first seeing her character, in her opener “Still Hurting” – at the end of the marriage, I was struck by how she had the acting chops to go haggard and disillusioned (song: “Still Hurting.”) Happily she gets her shot at lighter moments, as in “A Summer in Ohio,” and one sees what drew Jamie to her in the first place.

Other songs of note on Jamie’s part include “Shiksa Goddess” recounting his dating woes in the past; “Moving Too Fast” in the early stage of his courtship with Cathy. And “A Miracle Would Happen” explores temptations from other women, sung ominously almost directly after the wedding ceremony. “Nobody Needs to Know” is sung by Jamie after he has in fact been tempted.

For Cathy’s part, “See I’m Smiling” and “Climbing Uphill” recount her audition struggles. The last song in the show has Cathy looking forward to the budding romance and Jamie removing his wedding ring–the reverse chronology is now complete–and is sung by them both: “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You.” The latter is very sad stuff

Could this couple have been saved? Could they even get back together at some later time? One never knows, but in conversation with Kyra Smith after the show, she admitted that part of what makes the play so good is that it is open ended.

Helping this production along is the professional-beyond-their years direction by Chad Vann and the lighting design also by Sam Cornbrooks and Gracie Denton, which allowa the two cast members to inhabit different spaces at the same time. The props and costumes may not have been elaborate – but established settings at once. (An empty mattress to suggest an illicit affair, a dual pile of hardbacks for the budding novelist.)

There is a five piece orchestra under the musical direction of James Woods: Violin: Meghan Mitchell, Cello: Hannah Palastro, Bass: Stephanie McClennon; Guitar: Samuel Painter and Piano: James Woods, and they perform the difficult yet gorgeous score beautifully.

Another reason for seeing this fine production during this long weekend is that The Last 5 Years has been made in to a movie, twelve years after its original off-Broadway debut. The film, starring Anna Kendricks and Jeremy Jordan, will open up the action and add scores of people. It may work, but see this intimate production now as Jason Robert Brown wrote it with two talented stars of the future.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.


The Last Five Years plays through tomorrow January 18, 2015 at Metropolitan Youth Arts Theatre performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Arts Theatre’s ‘The Last Five Years‘: Part 1: Ben Cherington by Sam Cornbrooks

Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Arts Theatre’s ‘The Last Five Years‘: Part 2: Kyra Smith by Sam Cornbrooks

RATING: ****1/2


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here