I was introduced to Jason Robert Brown’s 2001 musical ‘The Last Five Years’ mid-2015, when one of my friends, Sam, recommended it to me. I think the reason he did so was because he was OBSESSED with Anna Kendrick at the time (I assume he still is) and so told me to watch the 2014 film adaptation she starred in alongside Jeremy Jordan.
It’s a musical which grew on me. I’m not the most romantic person in the world, and I like watching things that aren’t just about love and relationships. With TL5Y being completely about one relationship, I was worried it’d not appease me. But I was wrong.
What I love about the show is the way it plays with form and time structure. Having just two characters (Cathy and Jamie) telling their stories separately and in different time scales (Cathy moving backwards and Jamie forwards) is unique. It’s strange watching something you know is doomed, but still unclear as to why. You ache for Cathy, as you see her begin to smile in her youth, as you know what will happen. You wish Jamie could go back to the happiness he had at the beginning. But you can’t do anything. You know it’s been done and you’re going to watch it happen not once but twice: once through Cathy’s eyes, and again through Jamie’s. There’s no sides to be picked, they both have faults. That’s what makes this show such a good presentation of a relationship.
However, TL5Y, for me, is more than a story about a relationship. It’s about being a young artist. I personally resonate with Cathy aiming, and failing, to become a successful actress. It’s a hard world, and it must be tough watching your boyfriend succeed at the drop of a hat. The show explores how frustration with your art can quickly seep into your personal life, and how consuming it can be. “Did you think it would be much easier, than it turned out to be?” Jamie asks Cathy.
Later that summer I introduced my friend Ash, somewhat a newbie to the musical world, to the show, and he fell in love with it – I’d say a lot more than me. Just over a week ago, we saw the London production at the St.James’ theatre, which closed just last night. Samantha Barks and Johnathan Bailey take on the roles of Cathy and Jamie, and seeing the show in the flesh really made me fall in love with the music over again.
Placing the lovers apart for the entire show – minus a beginning kiss, “The Next Ten Minutes”, and their final poses – highlights how this relationship failed due to miscommunication, amongst other things. It makes you feel you have to take one side, which you shouldn’t at all, and it makes you wonder whether their stories match. These are all great things, and add as a reminder of how complicated relationships are. Both actors excelled in their roles. Barks transforms from sadness to bubbly – she does quirky incredibly well. Bailey is equally as charismatic, directing a lot of his early songs at the audience – I think my heart skipped a couple of beats when he sang directly at me.Both were great at transforming themselves into the next stage of their character’s lives in mere minutes. I had tears at “If I Didn’t Believe in You”.
The show is complex musically, too. I don’t know a lot about composition or anything, but I can notice a repeated yet altered lyric or refrain when I hear one. These repeated motifs (“you and you, nothing but you”) show how one situation can suddenly flip,and in this context it is heartbreaking, but at the same time helps tie these seemingly independent songs together.
‘The Last Five Years’ has to be one of my favourite musicals, for these various reasons I’ve mentioned above. If you haven’t listened yet, I highly recommend it. I hope it comes back to London soon. Musicals can be much more than dancing, dialogue, and a large company. They can be intimate, bittersweet, and completely in song, too.