Friday, 15 August 2014

The Last Five Years - Fresh Bred Productions (15 August 2014)

Ah, yes, The Last Five Years, the Memento of Musicals where a couple fall in then out of love; the man telling his story in normal chronological order, the woman is reverse chronological order with their timelines only crossing in the middle at their wedding. Sammy Jankis would be proud.

In honour of this conceit let me introduce our reviewers for this production:

A struggling screenwriter in a Hicksville town who has dreams of hitting the big time, called Richar—um, Jeremy; and

An aspiring theatre critic, the author of a little seen blog, who hopes to one day write for The West Australian Arts liftout section, Richar—um, Rachel.

Richar—um, Rachel: It’s after the show and I’m outside chatting to the director Craig Griffen who is clutching what promises to be the first of many alcoholic beverages. He is relieved but effusive in his comments. I get the lowdown on the wardrobe malfunction that causes an extended musical interlude before the performer reappears to the delighted applause of a generous audience. The biggest nugget of information (apart from the one’s I can’t tell you!) is that Craig deliberately chose to have the characters interact in certain moments (other than the wedding) to try and move away from a totally stand and sing style.

Richar—um, Jeremy: I realise I have made a rookie mistake the moment I sit down. Front row centre is my favoured spot for the theatre but at the Dolphin Theatre the front row is right up against a (highly) raised stage. I am peering up at the performers and, at one stage, when Eimear Foley sits on the edge of that stage she is only inches away. With her being so close and miked up, I enact the cone of silence lest my big laugh gets captured. Thanks also for the spotlight on the back of my follicle-challenged scone!  The cricks in my neck will come out soon, no doubt.

Rachel: The usual congratulations are taking place in the lobby and I have a fascinating conversation with a performer who has played the role of Jamie in a staging of this very show a while back. Then it’s a hello and introduction in person for the first time to the talented musical director and pianist, Kohan van Sambeeck, who looks pleased but exhausted. Amazingly, there has been only ONE technical rehearsal before tonight’s opening performance!

Jeremy: So the stage is set up with 5 musicians seated upstage and the musical director playing piano and conducting from stage right. There is a table in front of the musicians; a door with stoop stage right; a small table with chair stage left, and a couple of platforms on either side. The lighting is fairly rudimentary.

Right off the bat, let me say that this is a beautiful score and it is played wonderfully well by van Sambeeck on piano, Campbell Ellis (guitar), Tim Perren (bass guitar), Izurein Sabudin (violin), Beren Scott and Krista Low, both on cello. Their work is a highlight of the evening.

With only two performers though, this clearly is a showcase for the vocals. I must admit I thought that Jason Arrow (Jamie) and Eimear Foley (Cathy) didn’t really get into a rhythm until his ‘Moving Too Fast’ and her ‘I’m A Part of That’.

Rachel: The show ends with the wonderful ‘Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You’ where Cathy (Eimear Foley) is at the start of her journey and is excited to see Jamie (Jason Arrow) again while Jamie, five years later, is saying goodbye for the final time. The song is perhaps the best crafted within the conceit of the storytelling and is a poignant and rousing final number. It is a fitting showcase for both Jason and Eimear.

Jeremy: Oh, hi there. What are you doing?
Rachel: Writing a review.
Jeremy: Hey, me too! What’s yours about?
Rachel: Love, loss and relationships, with singing.
Jeremy: Mine too! Want to compare notes?

Rachel: Sure. I was going to say that it’s a strange musical in many ways. The fractured timeline narrative, while clear for Jamie, seemed more muddled for Cathy. The choice to have them interact within their separate timelines was a little confusing even though I understand the director’s rationale.

Jeremy: I have seen Jason Arrow perform before in Hairspray and Cats. He has a big voice but I was curious to see how his acting would hold up under this sort of scrutiny. As pointed out to me, Jamie could easily be seen as unsympathetic because it’s his actions that largely cause the breakup of the relationship. I thought he did pretty well though. Now doing musical theatre at WAAPA, it will be interesting to see how his acting skills develop over the journey.

Rachel: I was unfamiliar with Eimear but I see from the programme that she is also at WAAPA studying Classical Voice and Opera. Some songs didn’t seem to suit her as well as others but I thought ‘I’m A Part of That’, ‘A Summer in Ohio’ and ‘Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence’ as well as the finale were very strong.

Jeremy: Of course Eimear got to play a little shtick in the audition sequence which was quite funny.

Rachel: And Jason did a little talking dummy/puppet work with ‘The Schmuel Song’… though neither reached for the gun.

Jeremy and Rachel: It’s perhaps ‘The Next Ten Minutes’ where they duet in the middle of the show that is the most satisfying emotionally as we finally see them fully together both in song and in their relationship.

Jeremy: The show ended to great applause.

Rachel: Does anyone park straight at UWA?

Directed by Craig Griffen with Musical Direction by Kohan van Sambeeck; Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown; and starring Jason Arrow and Eimear Foley; as well as the musical talents of Campbell Ellis, Tim Perren, Izurein Sabudin, Beren Scott and Krista Low, there is only one more opportunity to see this show at the Dolphin Theatre at UWA, Saturday evening at 7pm

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