The show: “The Last Five Years” at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven.
What makes it special?: Revival of composer Jason Robert Brown's 2002 two-character musical examination of a failed marriage with the wife at the end of the split going back in time and the husband starting at the beginning of the relationship moving forward to its conclusion.
First impressions: The concept is intriguing, the performers are terrific and the music varied, rich and tuneful, but this he-said she-said musical lacks a real connection, despite the personal charms of the actors, the clever staging and the emotive moments. The series of solo turns —- the characters only meet once in the middle of the piece in a moment of sweet bliss —- makes it feel like the audience is eavesdropping on separate therapy sessions. It might be insightful and analytical but it's also cool and distant. In the end the breakup is sad, understandable and inevitable, not tragic or heartbreaking.
Does everything have too be tragic?: Not at all. But while the concept is clever the lack of connection between the two characters keeps the audience emotionally at bay. We know where it’s going and also know it’s all for the best so dramatic tension and engagement is missing.
So we just lean back and watch how these two appealing but flawed young people — who weren’t right for each other in the first place — tell their stories. He’s an up-and-coming novelist who hit it big just as he starts his career. She is a struggling actress who’s career is going nowhere fast. They’re both sincere, self-aware (sort of), and want to make it work.
Along the way there are joys, resentments, anger, denial, sweetness, infidelity and humor in their relationship, all presented in song. (There are bits of dialogue; well, more like monologues, but their twin tales are essentially told as musical solos.)
And the songs?: Very good with several numbers that let the two strong-voiced and likable performers — Katie Rose Clarke and Adam Halpin — really shine. The six-piece orchestra (under thedirection of James Sampliner) is first-rate, too. Brown has created a fine eclectic score — featuring light jazz, ballads, a bit of R&B, and even a touch of klezmer — while still being all of a piece.
And the performers?: Halpin and Clarke make a perfect imperfect pair. Gordon Edelstein keeps things honest and doesn’t allow his actors to push too hard — until the appropriate times. So Halpin’s “Shiksa Goddess” and Clarke’s “Summer in Ohio” are both delightfully amusing but not overplayed. Clarke’s “Climbing Uphill” (which follows her as she auditions unsuccessfully in New York) is a wonderful set piece in which she nails every offbeat laugh. (She has a wonderfully sly comic touch.) Halpin captures the rush of early success with “Moving Too Fast” and Clarke’s “I’m a Part of That” connects with the mixed feelings of elation in a shared-from-the-sidelines success. Halpin’s “I Can Do Better Than That” is also a beautiful song of ache and rue and is the emotional high point of the show.
Eugene Lee’s empty apartment setting filled with packing (and unpacking) boxes keeps the focus on the storytelling — but the giant cloak on the revolving stage floor is a way-too-obvious symbol of time going in opposite directions.
Who will like it?: Fans of Brown’s work and the show, which has developed a cult following over the years. Bittersweet romantics. Divorce lawyers.
Who won’t: Those who resist confessional, self-absorbed, self-analytical types — and those who love them.
For the kids?: Complex adult relationship situations here. Don’t stomp on the kids’ hearts just yet.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Marriage post-mortem musical is just too cool for its own good.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: A look at modern relationships in the big city can be ripe for musical exploration. It just needs company.
The basics: The show plays through June 1 at the theater at 222 Sargent Drive in New Haven. The show runs 90 minutes without an intermission. Information at 203-787-4282 and www.longwharf.org.
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