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Review: 'The Last Five Years' at Muse
The performers are terrific; the material, not so
Cathy and Jamie: Brittny Hargrove and Ryan McCurdy - photo by Blue Door

For Cathy, it’s the story of the last five years. For Jamie, it’s the next five years.

The Jason Robert Brown musical onstage through this weekend at Muse Arts Warehouse is actually called The Last Five Years; it follows a busted romance from one perspective (Cathy’s) and the other (Jamie’s). The chronology is such that one starts at the end and moves backwards, the other moves forward from the beginning ...

If that sounds a little confusing, it’s because playwright Brown has designed his two–person musical to keep the audience as off–balance as the characters in the story. Unless you’re keeping score, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s looking back in anger, and who’s looking forward with the promise of a lovey–dovey future.

Here’s how it works: Idealistic Cathy is a musical theater actress going from one audition to the other, and narcissistic Jamie is an author trying to sell his first book.

They meet — somewhere in time — fall madly in love, get married and split after five years of up–and–down togetherness.

It’s a full–tilt musical; there are only little snippets of dialogue. Cathy (Brittny Hargrove) and Jamie (Ryan McCurdy) alternate songs (they’re pretty much all solos) as the relationship goes up, and down, and up again. And down again.

There are some lovely songs in Brown’s score, from big, Broadway–style ballads (“If I Didn’t Believe in You,” “Nobody Needs to Know”) to uptempo, poly–syllabic comedy numbers (“A Summer in Ohio,” “Shiksa Goddess”).

At Muse, the live five–member band kept the tempo, and the mood, as each song came and went. The cello and violin were particularly nice touches.

Too often, though, the music rang a tad too familiar — as if elements of Sondheim, Rent, Les Miserables and even Rodgers & Hammerstein had been stitched together in a rather indistinguishable patchwork manner.

Midway during many of the songs, I had forgotten what the character — Cathy or Jamie — was singing about. The melodies tended to evaporate as soon as I heard them. “No wonder this song wasn’t a hit,” I kept thinking.

Fault the material, not the performers. Local stage veteran McCurdy once again proved he’s virtually without peer in musical theater range and emotion (his “The Schmuel Song,” as the couple celebrate their first Christmas together, was both funny and moving).

The discovery here is Hargrove, who’s only been in two previous plays (she’s a voice and music education major at AASU). She has a magnificent voice, on opening night her delivery was impeccable (personal favorite: “Goodbye Until Tomorrow”) and she displayed a beguiling stage presence.

Individually, both Hargrove and McCurdy deliver the goods — but in their few duet scenes (as the space/time continuum is being explored) they don’t seem to have a lot of chemistry together.

That being said, The Last Five Years — directed by Kimmi Sampieri — is certainly worth your next two hours. Just don’t look at your watch — it might be running backwards.

The Last Five Years is onstage at 8 p.m. July 22–24. Call (912) 341–9210