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The Last Five Years
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Taylor Gruenloh
Tesseract Theatre Company
February 19, 2023

Grace Langford, Kevin Corpuz
Photo: Tesseract Theatre Company

The Tesseract Theatre company is staging its second musical, Jason Robert Brown’s semi-autobiographical two-hander The Last Five Years, at the .ZACK Theatre. It’s a mostly sung-through show that’s known as a showcase for excellent singers, and director Taylor Gruenloh has chosen the leads well, in prolific local performers who have the voices, the presence, and the chemistry to carry this emotional roller-coaster of a show. There are also some inventive directorial choices that add to the drama and characterizations. 

Some of the drama of this show is provided by its structure, as its tale of a failed relationship is told in two directions at once. Cathy, an aspiring musical theatre performer played by Grace Langford, starts at the end of the relationship and progresses backwards. Jamie, a successful young novelist played by Kevin Corpuz, begins at the beginning, shortly after he and Cathy have met, and moves forward in the story. Their narratives catch up in the middle, at their wedding, and then move further apart.  

It’s an intriguing structure, and in most productions–like the last one I saw, twelve years ago–Jamie and Cathy spend most of their moments apart from one another, trading songs and stories but only interacting in the middle, when their narratives meet. Here, director Gruenloh has staged it differently, so both characters are frequently onstage together, as Jamie will be there reacting to Cathy’s songs, and Cathy reacts to Jamie’s. They are able to respond to one another more directly, which adds to the drama and adds a degree of depth to the relationship. I still find myself sympathizing with Cathy more, as Jamie often comes across as an a self-centered jerk, although this production seems to bring out Jamie’s charm a little more, especially in the first half of the show, and we also get to see more nuance in Cathy’s perspective. 

The casting is excellent. I already knew Langford and Corpuz had great voices and strong acting skills from seeing them in a variety of previous productions. Here, it’s just the two of them together, and they are matched well, with strong chemistry and excellent voices. Jason Robert Brown’s music is memorable and challenging, and both of these two performers rise to the challenge. Josie Schnelten is also strong in a brief, wordless appearance later in the show. 

The staging is fairly simple in terms of set, since the action takes place on a mostly empty stage, with evocative lighting by Gruenloh and Brittanie Gunn, along with projections by Gruenloh that help the audience keep track of what year it is in each scene. Both performers are simply dressed, as well, with Langford in red and Corpuz in black and grey. The band, led by music director Leah Schultz, is onstage above and behind the actors, and they sound great, although the acoustics of the venue make it so the band can sometimes drown out the performers as they sing, making it difficult to understand the lyrics at times.

For the most part, though, this is a highly effective, moving production that benefits greatly from the inventive direction and the dynamic performances of the two leads. The Last Five Years runs about 90 minutes with no intermission, and there are no dull moments here. It’s another impressive musical production from Tesseract. 

Grace Langford, Kevin Corpuz
Photo: Tesseract Theatre Company

The Tesseract Theatre Company is presenting The Last Five Years at the .ZACK Theatre until February 26, 2023

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