Jason Robert Brown’s two hander, The Last Five Years, would seem an ideal choice to showcase the talent of Lauren Samuels, and with her as Cathy there is much to enjoy in this production. Vocally, and dramatically, Samuels, with her understanding of nuance and subtlety, shines in a production, which is over-designed and under-directed. Christopher Pym, as Jamie, is genial enough with a pleasant voice, but, lacking in intelligent direction, he flails around pointlessly, and his light tenor is outclassed by Samuels intelligent mezzo. Despite microphones, both are frequently overpowered by the orchestra.
In this episodic piece, a dizzying array of costume changes, entrances and exits only serves to heighten the sense that this is not a musical, but a revue. Director Drew Baker should rein in the performances, which too often veer toward the demonstrative. The direction is frequently distracting and unstructured – the decision to allow Samuels to perform almost the entire opening number to the floor and for Pym to sing his opening lines with his back to the audience, only meant both performers had to work harder to engage the audience.
this production is at its most affecting when most stripped back and simple
Ben M. Rogers’ overly fussy design sledgehammers home that Samuels’ story runs backwards while Pym’s progresses, and Suzi Futters’ gauche lighting design crashes awkwardly from one state to another, too often leaving both performers unlit.
Samuels and Pym are easy on the eye, and offer charming performances, but even in musical theatre, less is usually more and this production is at its most affecting when most stripped back and simple.
** (2 stars)
Runs until 5th March (note – Lauren Samuels does not appear at every performance)