The music of Jason Robert Brown has the substance and heart behind it to transcend its original context and reflect the affective nature and experiences of people from all walks of life. It is this wide-scale relatability that finds JRB’s music so often performed, and done so with such conviction – for the subject matter of so many of his pieces finds a powerful home within the hearts of so many performers. This is perhaps but one reason that The Last Five Queers, a song cycle featuring a reimagining of a collection of his works, proves to be such a successful concept, as it tells the somewhat convoluted, yet still exceptionally clear and relevant experiences of five interconnected young people and their individual love stories.
While recognisable from their home-scores, the songs included in this piece worked brilliantly to support the underlying theme throughout this song cycle, in some cases finding the lyrics to be received in a way that was even more profound and relevant to our societal needs. The musical direction by Barney Reiter was stellar. JRB’s songs are widely known as particularly difficult undertakings, yet the execution of such beautiful and dynamic arrangements was breathtaking.
The simplicity of the staging provides a very apt canvas for these stories to unfold. This minimalist approach works exceptionally well to call for the audience to view those performing as reflections in a mirror, creating a very intimate appreciation and connection with what is going on before them. It is within the subtleties of the direction by Leanne Marsland – the character nuances, the presentation of vulnerabilities and strength – that this piece really flourishes.
Audiences should count themselves lucky to have witnessed such a talented cast in the early stages of what promises to be exceptional careers. Keagan Vaskess who, as we were told, had only five days to rehearse after agreeing to fill in was simply sensational. Equal parts power and fragility, her charisma and powerhouse vocals were beyond impressive. Her interactions with Madi Lee were awkwardly beautiful. Lee, in turn, provided a dynamic performance full of tenacity.
Tim Carney, as Lee’s wandering boyfriend provided a somewhat inconsistent performance, with moments that felt rather lacklustre and vocally fatigued. Carney did well, however, to redeem himself throughout the piece, and it is these spurts of vigour that were exceptionally captivating.
Jack O’Riely’s vocal chops were something quite outstanding. His rendition of ‘Stars and Moon’ was a crowd favourite and as a whole, his time on stage was executed with great energy and commitment.
The standout of the night however was Henry Brett. Not only did his scene work seem incredibly natural and powerful in reflection, his performance of ‘Still Hurting’ was spine-tingling. If there was only one version of this song that I would be able to listen to for the rest of my life, this would be it. Simply stunning.
The Last Five Queers is must see music theatre. Make it a priority and witness it for yourself before it comes to a close again.