“Till there's no one left Who has ever known us apart”
What a wonderful sentiment on which to reflect a few days before Valentine’s Day. That’s my most favorite romantic line in my most favorite show, “Last Five Years”, by Jason Robert Brown. The other night I went to a “works in progress” at the Guggenheim, where Jason Robert Brown, the two actors in the new Second Stage production, and a host, discussed process and sang songs from the new production as well as the development of some music.
OK, I do love this show. In fact, I love all of his work. To hear him talk was a joy. But the best part of the evening, from a novice producer’s perspective, was his discussion of the orchestrations and the decision to use just string instruments and a piano. There are no drums because he felt percussion was too heavy for the songs and the story. The other most interesting thing he said had to do with feedback. He explained that as the author of a work, you have to believe you are awesome, as is the work. He told a story about Stephen Sondheim giving him tickets to a new work he was producing. Brown didn’t like it much and intended to tell Sondheim the truth. When the time came for Brown to tell Sondheim how he felt, he said nothing, which was a awful as saying something negative.
When they finally, much later, had a conversation, Sondheim told him that he didn’t want to hear anything but that it was great. ‘If someone you know gives you tickets to a work they have created, they do not really want to hear anything negative.’ It takes a great deal of courage for an author to make their work public. They need support from the people closest to them. All they want to hear is, “It was great.” If it’s awful, they will find out when the critics review it and the audience stops buying tickets. There is enough time for that.
This show is special to me for many reasons. First of all it’s brilliant. Second, despite the oft present humor in the music, it’s the saddest musical ever created. You know from the beginning that the two characters are doomed. They will never get it together to have a relationship. It is a two character show that opens with Jamie, (the male), telling the tale from the beginning of their relationship, and Kathy (the female) telling the story backwards, from the end of the relationship. So, before it begins you know it’s over. The only time they are in sync is in the middle when they get married, (and are in a boat in Central Park) and then they drift past one another to the inevitable sorrowful end.
Paul and Jordan, L5Y: 2004, Arlington
When Jordan was a senior in high school she produced and starred in this show with her friend Paul, who took a metro from Maryland every day, traversing the whole of D.C. in order to rehearse. They did an amazing job, especially when you know they were seventeen and had no life experience at all. Even without caveats, they were sensational. And the show earned a permanent place in my heart.
I sat with two people who had directed the show, on and off Broadway. Watching them react to the music and the conversation was priceless. They were clearly still in love. How can you not be? The show has never known any notable success. It does have an enormous cult following and whenever it is produced, the tickets are sold out.
Jason Robert Brown has shared himself (although he denied that it was autobiographical), with the theater going public in the same way that we want to share “Gefilte Fish Chronicles the Musical” with the rest of the world. Although in GFC it’s mostly good news, it, like “Last Five Years” is a living, loving tribute to relationships, the power of family, food, music and tradition. Both are well worth seeing. We’re just sayin’… Iris