Quote of the Day: These are two people who – really except for one moment – are simply never in the same place. They just cannot connect and that failure of connection is, of course, a large part of what the show is about. Jason Robert Brown, creator of The Last Five Years, a love story told in two opposing timelines, contrary motion, if you will. 

Tommy McCarthy as Jamie and Lydia Rose Prior as Cathy in The Last Five Years at Lyric Arts. Photo: Molly Weibel

The Last Five Years, directed by Laura Tahja Johnson, is about two people who meet, fall in love, and eventually go their separate ways. What makes the storytelling unique is that Cathy’s story starts at the end of the relationship and works its way to the beginning, while Jamie’s story starts at the beginning and works its way to the end. They meet in the middle, both figuratively and literally as the stage has a timeline painted on the floor, at the moment where they get engaged. The set design, by Greg Vanselow, also includes projections, by Jim Eischen, which give us visual clues as to where they are physically, like a park or train station, as well as reinforcing those timelines. (I don’t think they needed to be quite so obvious with that, but that’s just me.) They move set pieces in and out for the scenes, as well, which worked fine, for the most part. One larger piece, the front stoop of Cathy’s apartment, seemed a little too large and awkward to move, making it a little distracting. Also, the intermission part way through this otherwise 90 minute musical seemed unnecessary. 

Tommy McCarthy as Jamie and Lydia Rose Prior as Cathy in The Last Five Years at Lyric Arts. Photo: Molly Weibel

In the opening scene, Jamie and Cathy walk on from opposite sides of the stage, both carrying umbrellas during a rainy day in New York. They see each other, stop, and the story unfolds. First, with Cathy singing a sad ballad about their breakup “Still Hurting.” The second song is Jamie, on the other end of the stage, and their relationship, singing about the “Shiksa Goddess” that he just met and is about to go out on their first date. It sort of messes with your emotions. At first you’re sad for Cathy and happy for Jamie, and by the end you’re a little mad at Jamie, but also feel sad, and also feeling the excitement with Cathy, while knowing that this first date is going to lead to heartache. 

This show is a well loved musical by many because of its gorgeous score and unique storytelling. I feel that that Jamie, played by Tommy McCarthy, gets a little more chance to shine with his songs and storyline. Tommy is a captivating performer, and I felt like he was all in with his characterization of Jamie. I liked both the character and the performer, even though Jamie seems to be a little more at fault in the relationship. Cathy, on the other hand, played by Lydia Rose Prior, seems angsty and sad throughout the show, until her last number, which is at the beginning of the relationship. Is Cathy ever all in with her relationship to Jamie? Also, Tommy’s performance was strong, belting where he needed, giving softer phrases when necessary, adding a little choreography, and I loved his storytelling song, “The Schmuel Song,” which was cute and funny and full of colorful words, phrases and music. Cathy doesn’t get a song like that. Also, her diction was a little hard to catch, making us struggle a little more to understand what her songs were about. Although, she has a lovely singing voice, light and lovely to listen to, and she portrayed her emotion well with facial expression and body language.

On stage band at Lyric Arts for The Last Five Years, lead by Ben Emory Larson. Photo: Molly Weibel

This was the first time that I’ve seen the band live on stage at Lyric Arts. They have limited space, so the band is often in another room with the sound piped in. Experiencing the music in the same room really enhanced the performance. Music Director Ben Emory Larson has assembled top-notch string musicians, including two cellos, two violins, a bass, guitar, and himself on piano. Bravo to the musicians!

Whenever I’m at Lyric Arts, I think of how lucky the community of Anoka is to have such excellent theater right in the heart of their town. Residents don’t have to drive into the city, unless they want to, to experience exceptional professional theater with heart. I look forward to seeing more productions at Lyric Arts this year. You can see The Last Five Years at Lyric Arts through February 11, 2024.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: How do our relationships define us and the paths we choose?