'Last Five Years' debuts in Bentley

by Liz Ellison | 3/6/08 3:01am

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Elise Hogan '09 and Brendan Lynch-Salamon '10 dance during a rehearsal of
by Larkin Elderon / The Dartmouth

"The Last Five Years," composer Jason Robert Brown's one-act musical, tells the story of a young couple's relationship and life together in New York over the span of five years. There are just two characters: twenty-something novelist Jamie (Brendan Lynch-Salamon '10) and struggling actress Cathy (Elise Hogan '09). Although a cast of two is unusual for a musical, it grants "The Last Five Years" a uniquely intimate theater experience.

The show is especially notable for its unconventional narrative structure. The audience learns in the first scene that this story will not have a happy ending: Jamie and Cathy's relationship ends in divorce. While Cathy reveals in her first song that Jamie has just left her for good, Jamie begins his narrative with his and Cathy's first date. As Jamie's story begins with their initial move-in, it progresses to their wedding and then the relationship's downfall, Cathy's goes in the opposite direction, beginning with Jamie's moving out, back through the happier times they've shared. Just once, the two meet at the same point in time -- their wedding.

Director Josh Feder '08 was initially drawn to the show's theme and setting when he first considered directing it this term.

"What really attracted me to the show was the fact that it's about two young artists just trying to make it in New York," said Feder. "They really just want to have the best careers they possibly can, the best relationship they possibly can and to have it all happen in New York."

There's plenty in "The Last Five Years" that will resonate with future starving artists. Jamie and Cathy are passionate about what they do and determined to succeed. Amidst the scores of other young artists trying to sell themselves and their work in New York, these two will do whatever it takes to rise to the top. Their relationship becomes complicated, though, when Jamie's novel is published and becomes a success. His dream has come true, but Cathy continues to audition fruitlessly, unable to land roles she really wants.

The city of New York itself is central to the show's action. The two goe there because they want to be artists, but the city -- where anything is possible and everything is expensive -- proves to be a threatening, ominous environment, especially for people who may have to face the fact that they just aren't going to make it.

"The trials and tribulations of what it means to live in New York really affect their characters and their journeys," said Feder.

The vast majority of student-directed productions in recent years have been plays, but Feder knew he wanted his first experience directing a production to be a musical. He describes himself as "incredibly passionate about musical theater."

"The physical act of singing demands that you reach higher emotional levels," he said. "And we're in a world of our own creation, so you can make more stylized theatrical choices."

Feder also looked forward to working with such a small cast, an experience he says has been invaluable.

"I knew that I would have a chance to work with a smaller number of actors and do a lot more one-on-one work," he explained.

Which is great, but can they sing?

Not to fear. Both actors are outstanding singers, and no strangers to vocal performance. Lynch-Salamon sings with the Aires, and Hogan is a member of the Dodecaphonics and the Glee Club. These two can belt, and they can definitely break your heart with a ballad.

The show's orchestra includes a violin, bass, guitar and two cellos, as well as piano accompaniment by musical director Henry Danaher '08.

"The Last Five Years," which debuted Wednesday night, continues its run tonight and Friday at 8 p.m. in Bentley Theater. Tickets are $1 at the door.

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