Tag Archives: Jason Robert Brown

The Last Five Years

★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th March 2020

★★★★

 

“Oli Higginson as Jamie and Molly Lynch as Cathy are both outstanding: in their interpretation of the characters and musicianship”

 

On the surface, “The Last Five Years” has a kind of ‘Whovian’ concept at its heart, twisting the perspective of time. Two lovers, Jamie and Cathy, travel through five years of their relationship; he is moving forward while she proceeds in reverse. They meet in the middle, fleetingly, on their wedding day. Beneath the surface, though, is a very human story that deals with, not the time-warp perspectives, but the emotional perspectives of the two characters. It’s a device that gives you insider knowledge from the start (or the end) which simultaneously sheds light on the affair, but also pushes our emotional connection to their story into the shadows.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle has introduced a third character to the narrative: the baby grand piano that takes centre stage, around which Jamie and Cathy circle, powerless against its gravitational pull. Writer-composer Jason Robert Brown might have pulled off a neat trick with the dramatic concept, but O’Boyle’s decision to have the pair accompany one another’s songs on piano is inspired, and adds a much-needed dimension to what are essentially monologues in song. Songs which are nevertheless beautifully crafted by Brown, with a range of styles yet connected with common threads and leitmotifs.

Oli Higginson as Jamie and Molly Lynch as Cathy are both outstanding: in their interpretation of the characters and musicianship; using the piano as an emotional relay, often passing the baton between the bars of a tune. The opening “Still Hurting” shows off Lynch’s soaring and searing vocals in a heart-wrenching moment of resigned pain, while Higginson’s optimistic belt of “Moving Too Fast” encapsulates Jamie’s joyful optimism. Ninety minutes later Higginson beautifully mourns the ending of their story in “Nobody Needs to Know” while Lynch has usurped his dreams for the buoyant “I Can Do Better Than That”. In between, the pitch shifts are perfect as they advance and retreat along their own paths.

Which is the crux. Despite their onstage physical proximity, there is a detachment that leaves us slightly cold, which is entirely caused by the concept of the piece. It is quite easy to forget the characters are occupying different spaces and times, so it often feels that we are merely witnessing a couple who just aren’t suited to each other at all. He’s looking forward, she’s looking back, and their self-centredness strips us of sympathy. It is only when you make a conscious effort to return to the theme that you reconnect.

But the performers consistently manage to sweep this minor distraction away with the vivid brush strokes of their charisma and talent. Backed by the sheer energy of Musical Director, George Dyer, and the five-piece band, the music has us spellbound; even when the emotional magic doesn’t quite strike a chord.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 

The Last Five Years

Southwark Playhouse until 28th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
Fiver | ★★★★ | July 2019
Dogfight | ★★★★ | August 2019
Once On This Island | ★★★ | August 2019
Preludes | ★★★★ | September 2019
Islander | ★★★★★ | October 2019
Superstar | ★★★★ | November 2019
Potted Panto | ★★★★ | December 2019
Cops | ★★★ | January 2020
You Stupid Darkness! | ★★★ | January 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Thirteen

13 The Musical

The Ambassadors Theatre

Reviewed – 16th August 2017

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

 

” … the young cast bring believability and depth …”

 

 

13 The Musical brings together a teenage cast and the music of famed Broadway lyricist Jason Robert Brown, to produce a tale on the soaring highs and damning woes of pre-teenhood. Following the big city kid moves to a sleepy town model, the show chronicles Evan Goldman (Milo Panni) in his pursuit of acceptance in the social hierarchy of school. With all the classics of high school drama, 13 is high spirited and unashamed of its deep dive into teen culture.

Thirteen

The show reaps the full benefits of having such a young cast from the British Theatre Academy. Bringing believability and depth to an otherwise somewhat flat story and set, their fresh faced enthusiasm and talent ensures the show never lags. The snappy wisecracks, a few on the uncomfortable side when spoken by a twelve year old and clearly written by a forty year old man, are funny nonetheless and the laughs flow throughout.

Jason Robert Brown’s music is by far the stand out of the show. His particular brand of emotive, cynical and quick lyrics find some genuine emotional impact when belted out by the young cast. Through a fizzing opening number (“Thirteen/Becoming a Man”) to awkward first dates at the movies (“Any Minute”), the music allows the young cast to show off their energy.

Thirteen

On the other hand, the shows biggest problem is the story itself. Initially feeling like the first 10 minutes of High School Musical, that preteen cultural marker of the noughties, holds clear influence over 13. With the clever music and lyrics to thank, the show unfurls into something definitely wittier, but just as simplistic. In place of teeny bopping pop, the audience has middle school satire and a stock of predictable characters. A big mean sports bully, his loyal followers, the dim-witted beauty, a scheming cheerleader, and the lovable band of misfits welcoming our hero to his new life of suburban hell. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff.

The most obvious flaw in the show is that it’s not this simple. Chase popularity and be saddled with unauthentic wannabes. Or accept your fate as a social pariah and find some genuine friends. Its well-worn ground. The truth of being a teenager lies somewhere with the nameless supporting characters of 13. Teenhood is almost never lived in the polarising worlds of geek or jock. In this regard the show is pandering to its adult audience. Pretending school was a living nightmare is often how we account for the somewhat average reality of being a teenager. 13 celebrates the melodramatic stereotypes of 21st century youth, not entirely truthful, but funny enough to keep the audience content in their seats.

 

Reviewed by Isabelle Boyd

Photography by Roy Tan

 

 

13 THE MUSICAL

is at The Ambassadors Theatre until 23rd August

 

 

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