FORT WORTH Breaking up, we have been told in song, is hard to do.
But in The Last Five Years, the musical that opened as part of the Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s basement series on Friday, at least the characters calling it quits have the comfort of being able to sing about it.
Because while most musicals are about falling in love, this show (which might be more aptly described as a song cycle) chronicles the dissolution of the romance between Jamie (Mitchell Ferguson), a rising young writer, and Cathy (Mary Jerome), a luckless actress who is making a career out of doing auditions.
The gimmick here is that they each sing the chronology of their relationship in reverse. So the first tune we hear from Cathy is about the end of the relationship, which is followed by a number from Jamie about the beginning of it. At the end of Act One and the opening of Act Two, we get duets because those are the only points where they both occupy the same time and space.
So this show from 2001, written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, has a clever structure and some good songs cast in a Broadway-meets-pop mold. In this production, Ferguson fares a bit better than Jerome, who is more affected by the less-than-ideal acoustics of the raw and ragged basement space below the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Their numbers are well staged, thanks to the direction by Nathan Autrey, who makes good use of the minimal sets (a bed, a desk, a living area) to keep the singers moving around.
Much of the vocal work is appealing, but the songs do become tiring because, although Brown varies the structures somewhat, they are so stylistically similar. Several are also too long. Moreover, watching and listening to a marriage fall apart before your eyes is not the most pleasant of theatrical experiences. There are moments of happiness, and even humor, in this musical. But most of it is archly sad.
As to the production itself, both actors have acceptable pipes and play their roles well enough, but they do not project much chemistry, even for a couple who are divorcing.
Finally, the basement space, in addition to being as aesthetically barren as would be expected, is extremely difficult to light, so the singers are sometimes laboring in the dark.
But, given the cloud hanging over this musical’s lovers, that may be quite fitting.