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Thursday, November 03, 2005


Ok, so being the big musical theatre geek (a title I wear with pride) that I am, I figure it could be interesting (for me and very few others) to feature some of my favorite musicals on my blog. Why does one care? Well, I don't expect "one" to care, but why not bring some awareness and free publicity to shows that have made an impact on me.

The show that has made a lasting impression since the moment I heard a bootleg copy (two years ago), is my "pal" Jason Robert Brown's, "The Last Five Years." The show is a brilliant portrayal of a marriage told from two angles. When the show begins, the audience sees the end of a marriage from the woman's point of view. As the story progresses, we see the relationship working back in time to the point when the couple first meet. Concurrently, from the man's point of view, we follow in chronological order, the story of the relationship from the first meeting to the end of the marriage. At no point during the entire show do the stories intercept, except in the middle of the show, at the pinnacle of their relationship, their wedding. TL5Y is the freshest, smartest, most ingenious show I've heard and seen...I think ever. I've been faithfully listening to the cast recording of this off-Broadway show for the last two years and everytime I listen to it, in it's entirety, I hear and learn something new from the characters. The music is beautifully written, allowing listeners to fully understand the emotions of Catherine Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein. TL5Y is funny, touching, beautiful and heartbreaking and after each listen, you don't know which is the stronger emotion because they all equally resonate in your mind.

What is interesting, is that I came upon TL5Y purely by accident. I was given a bootleg copy of the show in 2003, while intending to receive another cast recording. I was willing to give this show a listen since the writer was Tony Award winning composer, JRB (for his score to Parade in 1999). I had only heard positive remarks about his work, particularly the comment that JRB was the modern day answer to Stephen Sondheim. It is hard to believe that anyone could be justifably compared to Sondheim, but JRB is a fair and obvious successor to the modern day musical theatre throne.

Upon my initial listen, I was drawn to TL5Y, intrigued by what I thought was a simple, intimate show with only two characters telling one story. How wrong I was. Yes, the show only had two characters, but the feelings from them were deep and complex. Any relationship is hardly simple, and neither was the one between Cathy and Jamie. I remember the song, “See I’m Smiling” in particular because of the depth and range of emotion. From the moment Cathy sings, “See, I’m smiling/That Means I’m happy/that you’re here” to the lyric, “And see I’m crying/And not do anything at all…” you can just hear the pain in between her optimism towards the marriage and Cathy’s realization of who her husband has become. Sounds like an obvious rationale, yet JRB's words which can be so simple, tell a story with such complexity yet so succinctly. Each song gives the audience a clearer view into who these characters are. We see and hear that Cathy and Jamie are insecure, flawed, neurotic, confused, hopeful and determined -- characteristics we may try to hide from or embrace yet on a certain level, we all possess. As we learn more about who Cathy and Jamie are, we are left at the end of the show, feeling as fulfilled and incomplete as Cathy and Jamie must feel in their relationship.

Lyricist, Richard Maltby Jr., says in the album's liner notes, TL5Y is the "reason you go to the theatre" and like all real plays should, it will "change your perception of life" and I couldn't agree more.

L.A. Residents: Catch TL5Y at Marvelous Musical Monday's, a new series at REPRISE!, Monday, January 30, 2006.

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Read JRB’s interesting comment on the state of the future of musical theatre from the Manhattan User's Guide:

What's the future of musical theatre? Is there one?
Sure. There's too much money to be made for there to be no future in musical theatre. I don't think the conditions of the so-called Golden Age of the 40's and 50's can ever be replicated, but I think there will be new musicals and every couple of years one of them will permeate the cultural consciousness and bring more people in to the party. The tragedy is that when musical theatre was the center of popular culture, it could afford to take risks and go interesting places, knowing that there would be an audience willing to experiment. Now that musical theatre is such a marginal piece of the entertainment world, there are no guarantees that an audience will be there if you go out on a limb, so the necessary strategy for a big Broadway musical is to go backward, do the safer thing, draw the audience in with the easy stuff, make them comfortable. I think it's possible that if we get them comfortable enough, we might be able to take some risks again. Or we might get them so comfortable that they fall asleep. Interesting fork in the road; I'm wondering which way things will go, same way everyone else is. Meanwhile, I just keep writing the things that are interesting to me, and hopefully people will come see them.


Mitch Glaser said...

The concept for this musical is quite inventive and unique.

Often music can express the depth and complexity of human emotions far better than mere words alone.

scmusicals said...

I have recently become acquainted to the wonderful talent of JRB myself. After seeing TL5Y and Songs for a New World this past year, I can't wait to see what he has planned for the future...although, the thought of Honeymoon In Vegas as a musical is still rather perplexing.

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