The Last Five Years, Lyric Stage, Boston, through December 12. 617-585-5678 or lyricstage.com
By Jules Becker
Imagine happily married actors playing a very conflicted couple in a stage musical. That challenge is all the more daunting when the characters in question were inspired by the rocky marriage of the show’s two-time Tony Award winning author-composer Jason Robert Brown (“Parade” and “The Bridges of Madison County”) and his wife Theresa O’Neill. Rising very convincingly to that challenge in the Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s inventive new revival of “The Last Five Years” are Jared Troilo as Jamie Wellerstein and wife Kira Troilo as Cathy Hiatt.
Brown’s highly personal musical was inventive itself when it opened Off Broadway in 2002 (2001-first run in Chicago; 2013-revival). This 90-minute song cycle finds both 20-somethings Jamie and Cathy examining their title relationship in contrasting ways—rising Jewish novelist Jamie chronologically and struggling actress Cathy in reverse (the latter calling to mind the time structure of the famed Pinter play “Betrayal”). Immediately reflecting the complexity of the cycle as well as the different perspectives of the spouses is Jenna McFarland Lord’s turntable-centered set design—with an upstage large handsome circle and downstage smaller suspended ones. Large and small packing boxes move on, off and around the Lyric Stage Company stage as Jamie and Cathy deal with their respective hopes, uncertainties, achievements and disappointments.
Right at the start of the musical, of course, Ohio native Cathy experiences hurt and pain in hindsight while messenger bag carrying Jamie embraces potential professionally and personally in his chronological assessment. Kira Troilo persuasively catches Cathy’s angst in her opening number “Still Hurting” as versatile music director-pianist Dan Rodriguez conducts five talented musicians—Emily Dahl-Irons on violin, Javier Caballero and Kevin Crudder on violoncellos, Tom Young on guitar and Gregory Holt on bass—in a plaintive short string accompaniment.
Jared Troilo (who happens to be Jewish, like Wellerstein) demonstrates both his vocal gifts and a knack for physical agility (in other numbers as well) as Jamie speaks of Washington Heights, biblical-like wandering and his readiness to be Cathy’s “Hebrew slave” in the very snappy early number “Shiksa Goddess.” The high demand performer displays his rich and impressive range (that fans of his work will remember in shows like “My Fair Lady,” “Dogfight” and “She Loves Me”—the last an IRNE award performance) in a vivid narrative song called “The Schmuel Song” and a haunting brutally honest number entitled “Nobody Needs to Know.” In “The Schmuel Song,” Troilo wears a kipah (Jewish skullcap) and delivers the tale with great expression—especially with physical agility as the story personifies a clock and strains of klezmer music are heard. By contrast, he displays a telling urgency in “Nobody Needs to Know,” as Jamie rises from a bed where he has slept with an unseen woman and somewhat admits his mistake. Troilo once again demonstrates a Broadway-caliber talent.
Kira Troilo also delivers—particularly with Cathy’s frustration with auditioning and her difficulty developing her career. She can belt solidly, although there were moments when she seemed to reach for some high notes. Still, she was moving and touching throughout, especially as Cathy tried to feel secure about her relationship with Jamie—notably during her mixed emotions at Jamie’s book party in “I’m a Part of That.” If Cathy seems less of a well-defined character than Jamie, Brown may be to blame for not giving her as many of the kind of standout numbers he wrote for her spouse. Even so, Kira Troilo does her very good best to make Cathy a more assertive and emotionally strong character. Her grace as a dancer-choreographer comes through here as well. Together the Troilos capture the beauty of the one scene where Jamie and Cathy truly come together—namely the sweet marriage proposal number “The Next Ten Minutes.”
Designer Lord’s turntable design smartly enhances the evolution—chronologically and in reverse—of the feelings and fortunes of Jamie and Cathy. Karen Perlow’s lighting effectively puts one spouse in shade or silhouette as the other sings. In her director’s notes gifted veteran actress Leigh Barrett describes “The Last Five Years” as “a beautiful complicated mess.” With the magical pairing of Jared and Kira Troilo, Barrett has beautifully captured the complications of this very tuneful ‘mess.’