Jason robert brownThe musical THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a poignant and touching story. At its center is a married couple, going through the five years of their failed marriage. The story is told in individual scenes, with the two actors representing the married couple performing on their own. Cathy, the wife, tells her story of the end, going back to the beginning of their relationship. Jamie, the husband, tells his story from the start, moving chronologically to the present. Lawton Community Theater presents this heartbreaking spectacle to stream online. It’s pre-filmed on stage without an audience, and the camera work is mostly close-ups. We really have the impression of being at the theater, just with a very good seat.
Jason robert brown is a triple threat, playwright, composer, lyricist, and his shows are ruthless to say the least. His music requires a strong vocal range and this show, like most of his compositions, is performed almost entirely. It’s a compelling musical, but clients have to work on it. Everyone needs to focus because the story is embedded in the lyrics. Fortunately, the two singers representing Cathy and Jamie are wonderful singers and excellent storytellers.
Mikki Hankins is absolutely gorgeous like Cathy. When the show begins, she is resigned and heartbroken. Without even knowing why, she makes her audience feel her pain. As the story unfolds, in reverse, the explanation of how their relationship goes down becomes clear. Cathy is an actress, who struggles to make her career and life work with Jamie. Hankins’ job is to create a busy life in just a few musical numbers. She accomplishes this by playing with all her heart in every scene. There is no doubt that everyone who watches this at home supports her all the way. Hankins is vocally gifted and shines on stage, and she creates a character full of life and love.
Bryson Petersen is Jamie, and he exudes charm and magnetism. Jamie is a successful novelist, and his arrogance grows as his timeline progresses. Petersen is the potential villain, making selfish choices and speaking openly about his most not-so-kind innermost thoughts. But Petersen refines this character beyond his bad decisions. Petersen makes Jamie a nice guy, someone you would really like and talk to. Peterson is a strong and rugged artist, pulling heart even when you hate him.
The two timelines meet for a scene in the middle of the show. It is during this musical number that the actors actually perform together, singing to each other during their wedding. They exchange rings, promises, vows and a romantic kiss. Yes, a real kiss on stage! The chemistry between the two is electric and the kiss is a breathtaking moment. No one touches the theater anymore, and there is just too much social distancing. While most productions can adapt, sometimes you just can’t pretend. This moment is simply magical.
This production is a fully produced show on stage, with the addition of sweeping camera movements and some minor scene change modifications. The lighting design by Alan Jolly is moody and romantic and invites the viewer into the story. Production manager and cameraman Chance Harmon used space and boundaries beautifully, and the production manages to feel more like an in-person piece than a virtual flow.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS is beautiful in its truth. None of this doomed couple is single-handedly responsible for why their marriage does not last. They’re two real flawed, broken people, and as their timelines show, they go in opposite directions the entire time they’re together. It’s refreshing to see some reality on stage. When art reflects life, the sad and the honest, it reminds us that we are not alone in this human experience after all.
The Lawton Community Theater production THE LAST YEARS is available to stream online through May 19. To purchase tickets, visit lawtoncommunitytheatre.com.