“Jamie it’s over, Jamie is gone…” sings Cathy, the aspiring actress mourning the end of her relationship with the playwright Jamie. Within seconds, we are falling in and out of love with The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown’s form-bending musical, masterfully presented by Cygnet Theatre Company in Old Town.
Surrounded by moving boxes and a cascade of papers overhead, actors Racquel Williams and Michael Louis Cusimano deliver this love story with soaring voices and faultless timing.
When they lean over an illuminated box, their faces glow and metaphors for loss and change spill over. There’s a box marked fragile, and viewers ache for the joy and heartache ahead.
Accompanied by a splendid six-piece orchestra, directed by Patrick Marion, they sing about the thrill of finding the perfect partner and moving in together, and how difficult it is to share a creative life.
Jamie struggles with rewriting every word. Cathy is annoyed, but sings, “Then his eyes light up, and I’m a part of that.”
The ear-tickling score adds a rich dimension and shifts from bluesy beats to Jewish rhythms to recall happy family memories.
The non-linear structure sharpens the impact of two artists trying to co-exist and how memories are a selective blur.
One moment they are gleeful and pushing up their playful hands. The next, Cathy sings of snakes in Ohio and ice picks. Jamie twirls a book and sings about editing.
Director Rob Lufty says The Last Five Years may be closer to a poem than a play. Under his deft hand, the musical is elegant and enchanting.
Pacing is swift yet organic. The actors sing continuously, but never burst into song.
Memories circle and flow, and they trigger timeless emotions.
Assistant Director/Choreographer Michael Mizerany keeps our eyes moving as the young actors traverse and strut on the intimate stage.
Ms. Williams is a comic delight in “Audition Sequence” as she shares her terror with the audience. “I f—ing hate these shoes! Why does this pianist hate me? I suck! I Suck!”
This musical closes with heartfelt harmonies about goodbye and tomorrow, and it’s reassuring to know that it’s okay to love and invest in someone and move on.
This loving production tiptoes between a drama and a comedy, and the circular structure is compelling. We can imagine Cathy and Jamie in a sequel, titled “The Next 10 Years.”
The Last Five Years runs Oct. 23-Nov. 17, 2019 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Street, San Diego. Run time: 90 minutes. No intermission.