“The Last Five Years” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – March 18, 2023


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Hormel Theatre
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Composer and playwright Jason Robert Brown does not write the usual glitzy and entertaining musicals that contain little substance.  His 1998 “Parade” deals with the trial and lynching of a Jewish businessperson living in bigoted 1913 Atlanta where he is wrongly accused of seducing a woman.  The show is being revived now on Broadway with Ben Platt in an acclaimed production.

His most recent show, 2014’s “The Bridges of Madison County,” deals with an Italian bride who comes to live in a bigoted town.  In between these shows, he confronted his own failed first marriage to actor Theresa O’Neill in “The Last Five Years” which chooses a different method of storytelling.

In the two-character show, now at The Phoenix Theatre Company in a rich production, Cathy, a fraught New York performer, describes her story backward starting with today as the marriage is dissolving.  Novelist Jamie starts conventionally when the couple first meet and leads to the climax of the couple’s failed relationship.  The pair never meet on stage except when they marry. The author handles the back and forth in time with careful aplomb so audiences clearly understand what we are learning about the diverse and multifaceted individuals.

Brown’s dynamically complex score tells most of the story in the through-sung musical.  Not only does the cast present the songs in a telling narrative style but the melodies are beautifully played by a six-person band conducted with sensitivity by Craig Bohmler.

Sarah Harris’ set employs a revolve which keeps the production moving swiftly between various Manhattan locales where the two live out their active lives as each scene revolves into place.  Multiple and subtle costume changes define where in the action’s five-year period we are.

The rarely produced musical is presented in a sharply defined staging by Dwayne Hartford featuring the persuasive musical and acting talents of Alyssa Chiarello’s Cathy and Sime Kosta as Jamie.  The show is certainly a downer as the pair explore some initial positive moments in their marriage but much of the show deals with the challenges, disappointments, and failures of their faltering union.

The performers’ strong and distinguished vocals are aided by a fine sound system that allows dialogue to be distinctly understood.  “The Last Five Years” is a bit of a downer but the top-notch production brings off the probing musical with stylish harmony.  “The Last Five Years” runs through April 2. To order tickets, call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A