By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Theatre in the Grove’s production of The Last Five Years represents the realization of a long-time dream for actors/directors James W. Grimes and Jenny Hauser. The 2-person musical is not part of TITG’s regular season, but the company is offering a special pre-season two-week run of this rarely produced one-act. Grimes and Hauser are making the most of this opportunity, and the results are impressively entertaining.
The show is in some ways quite stereotypical – boy meets, girl, they fall in love, time passes, the relationship sours and they separate. However the structure is unique: the story of the five-year relationship is told by Jamie (Grimes) from its beginning to the end, while Cathy (Hauser) tells her side in reverse, starting with the breakup of their relationship and working backwards to its inception. The only point in the show where the stories coincide is at the time of their engagement/wedding, midway through the play. There is very little dialogue, as the tale is told through a series of seventeen songs, all solos except for “The Next Ten Minutes,” the duet they sing in the middle.
Author/composer Jason Robert Brown’s score is a complex (and sometimes dissonant) mixture of many musical styles, and requires both control and a broad vocal range from the two performers. Grimes smoothly manages the frequent transitions into his head voice, and Hauser’s powerful soprano is well matched to the demands of this score. While none of the songs (except perhaps Cathy’s poignant “Still Hurting”) are truly memorable on their own, they effectively and efficiently tell the story. Most impressive is the two actors’ ability to convey the nuances of their characters’ vast emotional shifts (New York nebbish to wunderkind, star-struck Ohio “shiksa goddess” to fragile failed wanna-be) through song.
In a show with this much music, the orchestra is key – and TITG has gathered a small but mighty group of artists, many drawn from local high school and college programs. Music Director/Conductor Emilee Buchanan, a Pacific University student completing her music education major, works wonders with piano, bass, violin, cello, bass, and guitar – the music on opening night seemed flawless, and provided ideal support to the two vocalists.
In addition to actor/director, Grimes also holds title to set designer/builder and video designer, ensuring that the final product fulfills his vision for the show. Sets are clever and extremely simple, which is essential when the action shifts with such frequency from one character and locale to another. Grimes’ use of video projection creates all the scenery needed to take us from New York townhouses to moonlit lakes without slowing down the pace of the production.
Because the show has only a two-week run, prospective audience members who hesitate may have a long wait before they have another opportunity to see The Last Five Years. Due to mature language and themes, the show is not appropriate for younger viewers.
The Last Five Years runs through September 14th at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove with performances at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 2:30 pm on Sunday.