The award winning The Last Five Years has got to be one of my favourite musicals. With a stunning musical score by Jason Robert Brown, the one act musical requires actors with a broad range both vocally and emotionally to portray the joy, hardship and heartbreak Cathy and Jamie endure throughout.
With a tiny cast of just two actors, and directed by new Garrick Artistic Director Joseph Meighan, The Last Five Years is an intimate look at the relationship between two New Yorkers: a writer and an actress The musical follows their love story in a fresh, modern way, as its unconventional structure tells Cathy’s story in reverse and Jamie’s chronologically.
You may have seen Hollywood star Anna Kendrick and Broadway sensation Jeremy Jordan in the film adaptation released in 2014, so Ella- Maria Danson (Cathy) and Shane Gibb (Jamie) have big shoes to fill.
First and foremost, I’ve got to say how incredible the band were, with a small three-piece collective of Piano (Simon Murray), Violin (Bianca Blezard) and Cello (Andrew Harsley). All three were centre-stage throughout the whole performance, and with a challenging score that runs basically none stop throughout, their talent shone and there was indeed no need for a full orchestra; you certainly didn’t miss it.
The staging was well thought out: the two doors stood on each side of the stage allowing the actors to enter and exit cleanly after each song and the divide of colour really helped define the divide in the timelines.
I think both Ella and Shane started rather nervously, neither one looking particularly confident in their movements on stage, however their voices…wow! Ella has a beautiful soft tone to her voice that really suited the tender Cathy moments. Shane had absolutely no trouble hitting the higher notes in the songs, some of which are very high for a male tenor to belt, but he performed them with ease.
One of my favourite songs of the show has got to be ‘See I’m Smiling’ where we see Cathy at her breaking point in the relationship. Beginning as a tender yet upbeat ballad the song builds to a crescendo when Cathy finally snaps at husband Jamie. I really wish we could have seen this snap exaggerated a tad more, I’d love to have seen Ella really explode with anger here, nevertheless you could not fault her vocals and her ability to quickly reach those high notes and adapt her vocal tone.
Both cast members really stepped-up mid-way through, although after a year and half without theatre and performing we can most definitely say opening night jitters could have very much been in play at the start. Shane really came into his own during ‘The Schmuel Song’, where we saw him grow in confidence and saw the comedy start flowing much more naturally. Following this turning point, Shane’s performance was much more confident, composed and poised. Ella had a similar moment during ‘A Summer in Ohio’: as she performed the comedy song while pulling various props from a trunk, the comedy elements were natural and easy.
The duet between Cathy and Jamie, where the two timelines collide, was absolutely beautiful. Both voices sounded lovely together, and the staging was simple yet effective. Both actors played the roles with ease and made them likable throughout, even as you see Jamie’s account of the end of the relationship – there was still that likability to the Jamie that Shane provided, which made the ending even more emotional.
Overall, a brilliant musical. Following what I believe to be a few opening night nerves, the young actors displayed impeccable vocals throughout, to do justice to the brilliant songs the musical embraces.
Monday 7th June 2021 – Saturday 12th June 2021
Tickets: Adults £16.50, Members £13.50, 25U £12
Reviewer: Alison Ruck
Reviewed: 7th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★