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The Last Five Years

by Archives November 22, 2006

The Last Five Years, written and composed by Robert Brown, is not your ordinary musical. There are only two characters in the show and the topics of their songs are not always happy and bright. Although not all musicals are happy, one generally expects to see at least a few scenes with large choruses performing a choreographed routine to an energetic and uplifting tune.

Charles Bender (as Jamie) and Lisa Rubin (as Cathy) certainly demonstrate an incredible amount of energy in this production, playing at Theatre Ste. Catherine. The two actors/singers are constantly moving around the stage as they tell the story of their relationship gone sour and everything that happened to bring it to a bad end. Both performers have lengthy solos throughout the piece explaining their side of the relationship story.

Rubin is, without a doubt, the strength in the two-person cast. She is charming and graceful and doesn’t lose her character for a moment. The audience is with her the entire time.

Rubin is bright-eyed and sweet when the script calls for it, but has darker moments in the show as well – which make her character even more interesting. She clearly understands what her character is going through and her songs take on a far deeper meaning than the usual sing-song tunes found in musicals.

Bender seems to have more trouble singing and, while his acting is strong, he sometimes cannot carry the note. The inequity in singing ability between the two performers is unfortunate. The choice to use microphones in such a small theatre only emphasizes each singer’s respective weakness or strength.

The space being as small as it is, one has to wonder if the mics were necessary at all. Rubin could clearly have managed without one; she has a very powerful, yet not overwhelming, voice. Perhaps the mics were brought in to assure the performers would be heard over the live orchestra accompanying them. In any case, adjustments should have been made because the sound was uncomfortably loud for the audience at some points during the show.

The orchestra, directed by Nick Burgess, was fantastic. The music was strong throughout the show and they didn’t seem to miss a beat. Live musicians are not often a part of independent theatre, but they certainly added to this piece.

The script was interesting, but at times over-indulgent. One may be intrigued by the mention of problems in Jamie and Cathy’s relationship, but a full analysis of the step-by-step deterioration is not necessary. An entire segment, where Jamie tells his young wife a story on Christmas day as part of her present, could easily be left out.

Some of the lyrics, however, are clever and the songs are generally well packaged. The technique of rhyming isn’t easy but, where used in this show, it is very effective. The performers are not hindered by the rhythmic pattern of their texts, but rather embrace it as part of their musical world.

The Last Five Years is certainly an original show. Some of the staging is very creative and visually pleasing. Giving Rubin a white mask, for example, when she briefly portrays the other women in Jamie’s life is very interesting. Her physicality makes these small characters strong and the mask is a powerful image that lends itself to all kinds of interpretations.

For those looking to experience a new kind of musical theatre in an intimate setting, The Last Five Years at Theatre Ste. Catherine definitely fits the bill.

The Last Five Years runs until Nov. 25

Theatre Ste.Catherine
264 Ste. Catherine (Berri metro)

For tickets call: 514.931.5449

or visit:
www.pumpkintheatre.ca

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