YES Theatre brings intimate production of the beloved musical to the Toronto stage
Love is rarely forever, and what remains is often little more than the things we owned. YES Theatre’s production of The Last Five Years, playing at the Attic Arts Hub, presents Jason Robert Brown‘s slice-of-life musical in an intimate setting that both helps and hinders the show.
Essentially, The Last Five Years is the simultaneous coming together and falling apart of Jamie (Alessandro Costantini) and Cathy (Janie Pinard). Consecutive songs, with Jamie starting at the beginning of their relationship and Cathy at the end, serve to unravel exactly what went wrong while poignantly never quite answering why.
As plots go, The Last Five Years is not (for me) the most exciting narrative, and in my opinion, this production doesn’t quite offer enough character nuance to win me over. But the songs are catchy and I’m sure it’s relatable for many people out there. Both Pinard and Costantini have great voices and play well off each other.
I just feel that the show is on the cusp, stuck between a solid performance and an amazing experience.
My sister—who happens to be a huge fan of the musical—and I were talking about this afterwards. We liked the show. We both agreed that the staging–minimal, and done in an alley configuration–was fantastic. It conveyed the distance between these two people no matter their proximity, taking full and tangible advantage of the limited space. Every bit of staging served the story, adding to it.
At the same time, however, the Attic is a small venue and the audience is super close to the cast. Costantini, in particular, has a lot of energy to spare. We both felt the larger than life gestures that might work or read better in a larger space overwhelmed various sections. It’s a small matter of finding where a show needs to be bigger, especially when dealing with a matter-of-fact narrative and an intimate location.
I suspect—and was informed by my guest—that my knee-jerk dislike for Jamie as a character might come from the creative decision to be direct while embracing the vibrancy of musical theatre. I needed to know these characters as people in order to emotionally commit myself, but I never saw them as more than what the script needed them to be. If you’re familiar with the music or have seen the movie, this production isn’t going to rewrite or reinterpret anything you already know—you like the story or you don’t. It’s a matter of preference, I know, but I’m someone who needed that extra layer to really feel for the characters.
I suspect that reigning in some of that energy and sharpening its focus might create larger impacts at other key moments. Between the beautiful accompaniment by an amazing trio (Cristina Masotti on violin, Erika Nelson on cello, and Michael Man on piano) and the solid vocals of Pinard and Costantini, it’s so easy to get swept away.
Honestly, the moments where they allow the lyrics and the music to wash over the scenes, where both actors hold the moment still, were strong. The ending, specifically, is super haunting, making smart use of the minimal set. That the experience is in such a small space is a nice treat you don’t usually get in larger theatres.
The Last Five Years is fun. I enjoyed it, my sister enjoyed it, and we agreed it was worth checking out. If you are a musical theatre lover, I think this will hit the spot.
- The Last Five Years runs until March 7th at the Attic Arts Hub (1402 Queen Street East)
- Shows run Friday March 4th to Monday March 7th at 8pm
- Tickets are $25 for general admission or $20 for arts workers; tickets can be reserved by phone at 647-524-7368, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or can be purchased (cash only) at the door
Photo of Janie Pinard and Alessandro Costantini provided by the company.