Review: The Last 5 Years (Theatre Here and Now)

The Last Five Years hit Toronto stages, but not all the right notes

The Last 5 Years was onstage this past weekend as the debut for new Toronto theatre company, Theatre Here and Now.

With a cast of just two characters, Cathy (Nicole Marie McCafferty) and Jamie (Armand Antony), The Last 5 Years is one of those shows that often appeals to small theatre troupes. In my opinion, it also has a lot going for it as an all-around fantastic musical: brilliant writing, incredible music, and a clever conceit where one character is moving backwards in time and the other forwards.
Over the ninety-minute runtime, Cathy starts off mourning the loss of her marriage with Jamie, slowly moving back in time to the happy beginning of their relationship, while Jamie is moving forward.

There isn’t much dialogue, just these two characters alternating fantastic solos. Each song has a distinct feel to it, but fits into the musical as a whole. This production has a live band led by music director Carl Jackson and it really brought the songs to life.

I absolutely love The Last 5 Years. I had the pleasure of being introduced to it about a year ago and it has been my go-to soundtrack ever since. I went into this show very excited.

But just because The Last 5 Years is easy to put on doesn’t mean it’s easy to pull off. Musically, it’s extremely challenging. Writer and composer Jason Robert Brown is known for his complex scores and it doesn’t take a trained ear to understand why. Singing these songs requires a broad range with absurd highs and lows.

McCafferty’s voice seemed to tire over the course of the show, but an hour of solo-singing may do that to most people. What really impressed me was how she powered through and kept the energy alive in the small theatre. My favorite song of hers was ‘A Part of That’. It’s far from being one of my favorites in the show, but she really nailed it and her performance left me with newfound appreciation. ‘See I’m Smiling’ was another highlight of hers.

Armand Antony, on the other hand… Well, there’s no way to put this lightly but, in my opinion he’s just not a very good singer. I was genuinely surprised when he actually hit a note, because being completely off-key was the norm. Antony was the producer of this show as well, and admitted to casting himself in the programme.

I don’t like to single out individuals for criticism, but half this show is Jamie and his songs, so if you have a lead that’s off for nearly all of it, it becomes tough to watch. Antony had trouble acting while singing, his movement seemed awkward and off-beat from the songs. I did notice that he actually shined as a performer in some moments when he was just speaking.

Nastazja’s Palonka’s direction had some interesting ideas. Specifically how songs were viewed as memories to whichever character wasn’t singing. The staging was nicely done, and she got a great performance out of Nicole McCafferty, a fairly strong singer who made an endearing Cathy.

So what you have is a solid musical with some nice ideas behind it and a great live band, with half the songs being tough to sit through. I don’t understand why Theatre Here and Now chose this show, of all the ones it could have gone with, when it was going to run into a problem right out the gate.

Details

  • The Last 5 Years played at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St) until September 24, 2017.
  • Tickets are $20-25 with discounts available.
  • You can buy the tickets online or at the front door.
  • Run time is 90 min.
  • Audience Advisory: Some plays contains crude language and mature themes

Photo of Nicole McCafferty and Armand Antony provided by the company.