The latest production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years to hit Melbourne is one entirely independent of theatre companies, instead produced by a group of incredibly talented and passionate individuals.
Following the story of a five-year relationship between Jamie Wellerstein (Andrew Kroenert) and Cathy Hiatt (Katie Weston), these characters only interact in the middle of the show when their timelines intersect at their wedding – otherwise, Jamie’s story progresses chronologically through their relationship, start to end, while Cathy’s begins at the end and regresses back through their experiences.
The intimacy of this relationship is highlighted wonderfully by the cosy space provided by Melbourne’s MC Showroom. Despite not the most comfortable of seats and the warm room (thanks to Melbourne’s random decision to embrace Summer this week), the venue allowed for an immersive set, unconstrained by the usual confines of a theatre space.
The key distinguishing stylistic choice that sets this production of The Last Five Years apart from many others is Kroenert and Weston playing various instruments throughout the show. There’s no denying these two performers are amongst the finest Australia has to offer in musical theatre.
Weston enters dishevelled, turns a light off, finishes some red wine and pours more. The show starts. Weston’s Cathy goes from completely exhausted and at her wit’s end, to an optimistic, bright-eyed bushy-tailed young woman. “Still Hurting” is Weston’s most emotionally profound moment in the show, and she continues to deliver a believable and heartfelt performance throughout.
Kroenert is a force to be reckoned with. His charismatic presence demands your attention. “The Schmuel Song” lets his creativity and nuance shine, giving his all to this adorable song. Kroenert really lets the audience feel for his Jamie as he succumbs to Cathy’s worst fears and distances himself from his wife.
The way Kroenert and Weston complement each other – while only interacting for “The Next Ten Minutes” to play the song together on the piano, dance, kiss and eventually either take off or put on a ring depending on their timeline – is fantastic. These two were made for these parts and it’s a total joy to witness.
David Wisken’s musical direction gives this heart-warming and lively score wonderful finesse and a rich sound comes from a live band. Despite some microphone issues for Kroenert, the sound is some of the crispest, clearest sound you’ll hear in a theatre. No doubt the smaller space makes this possible, but with two actors potentially both playing instruments and singing, and a live band, it’s impressive and a nice change.
The MC Showroom gives a smaller but unique space to arrange the seats around the set, allowing the audience to be spread around Cathy and Jamie’s apartment. It’s a dynamic room, and it’s a great way to experience theatre. The set design is well thought-out and gives the space personality like these characters might actually live there.
This production of The Last Five Years allows audiences the chance to be enveloped by the story of Cathy and Jamie. This is a show to bring theatre lovers and theatre newbies to. If you like good music and a story you know told in a way you’re unlikely to have seen, this one’s for you.
The Last Five Years is on at Melbourne’s MC Showroom until 26 November 2017.
Photography by Gavin D Andrew