‘The Last Five Years’ at The Heritage Players by Amanda Gunther

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It’s the Off-Broadway sensation; the love story told from beginning to end and from the end backward to the beginning, join in the amazement as The Heritage Players presents Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Directed by Wendy Meetze, this moving musical has only two characters who will spend the evening enchanting you with their romantic tale, how it all started and how it all falls apart. This production is Broadway quality in a cabaret space with two stunning soloists, a breath-taking live orchestra and musical numbers that will ignite your soul with passion and emotions beyond that of any other musical this summer.

Cathy (Brett Hurt) sings "A Summer In Ohio." Photo courtesy of Wendy Meetze.

Director Wendy Meetze immediately invites the audience into the intimate lives of Cathy and Jamie with the cozy cabaret style table setting. It’s a warm and welcoming feeling as you’re brought closer to the stage and closer to the actors. Set Designer Ryan Geiger creates a beautifully simplistic space that allows the actors to really carry the show fully on their shoulders. A painted silhouette of their lives is set as the backdrop and helps to inspire further romantic feelings throughout the show. Having the audience so very close to the actors during this performance allows for a tight bond to built between viewer and performer; creating a deep connection to every emotion that Cathy and Jamie feel, be it love and joy or sorrow and remorse.

It is clear that Meetze had a vision for how this would all come together as one working performance; two actors who are almost never on stage together and yet are always on stage with the presence of the other in mind can be a very difficult concept to execute, yet this production does so flawlessly. Meetze has made a tremendous effort in ensuring that her actors carry each other’s emotional levels as they perform; one is never outshining the other, and that their stories when completed swing around full circle to the story that the other has started.

Getting to watch a character to evolve through a show is an exciting experience within itself but getting to not only see one character do so but to see the other character unwind backwards through that evolution is nothing short of breathtaking. From the moment Brett Hurt moves onto the stage in the spotlight she is wearing her emotional wounds for all to see. Watching her in the process of unwinding these wounds back to happier times is exhilarating and stunning.

As the character of Cathy, Hurt connects with the audience in a way that lets us experience each emotion with her. Instead of singing at us or singing for us, she’s singing to us, inviting us into her world of pain and love, asking us to take this backward journey with her. Her voice is a pure sound like crystal, every note even and clear, each words packed full of emotions. From her opening number “Still Hurting” where she is the epitome of a tortured grieving divorcee, to her finale “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” where she’s the giddy girl in love on a first date, Hurt provides a consistent level of high energy and enthusiasm, imbibing each song with a fiery passion, translating each emotion into a palpable feeling for the audience to experience.

Jamie (Stephen Deininger) sings "Nobody Needs To Know." Photo courtesy of Wendy Meetze.

There are humorous moments to be found in Hurt’s repertoire of songs, but none so funny as “A Summer In Ohio,” where she really lets her inner goofball run amuck upon the stage. Her physical expression of her lamentation is hysterical and every person who has ever had a miserable time of something can relate. And for as wondrously hilarious as she is in this number we see the same level of devotion, only channeled through fiery passion during “Climbing Uphill.” Hurt is a singing sensation and carries half of the show with the grace and ease of a talented professional.

Equally matched in talent and powerful vocals is her co-star Stephen Deininger plays as Jamie. Deininger lets each emotion possess him, engulfing him in the feelings as he belts them out to us. His progression from upbeat jazzy happy man in love to a man tormented by his failing marriage is harrowing and humbling; each song pulling him down a little further past the point of no return. The most amazing thing about Deininger’s performance is his ability to so clearly create Cathy in the scenes with him. Although Hurt is almost never on stage in the scene actively with him, his use of keen eye contact and expressive facial gestures allows the audience to really feel her there, as if she is sitting there and our eyes are tricking us into not seeing her. It is a stunning effort on his part to do so with such conviction.

Deininger has ferocious emotional anxieties that nearly attack the audience during “If I Didn’t Believe In You.” His deep seeded anger and confusion is rooted firmly in his disappointment over her lack of support. This passion catches like wildfire and Hurt morphs it from torment and anguish to bold and daring excitement in her number “I Can Do Better Than That.” This happens several times throughout the show where one actor starts with an intense feeling and transfer it to the other only to have them carry that energy at its highest height while transforming it into something new and exciting.

Both Deininger and Hurt have incredible voices that are moving and packed with vibrant livelihood that communicates with the audience on a personal level. But the magic moment that steals the show is when they come together for the first time during “The Next Ten Minutes.” All show you’ve been building and building for this one moment and when it happens the fireworks explode like New Year’s Eve. Hurt and Deininger meet in the middle of the stage as if seeing each other for the first time despite having never left each other’s sides. It’s indescribable magic that steals everyone’s breath and causes the whole audience to just bask in the ethereal glow of the song.

This incredible production is not to be missed this summer, so find an evening, grab that special someone in your life and take them out to see The Last Five Years, because  it will change love for you.

Jamie (Stephen Deininger) and Cathy (Brett Hurt). Photo courtesy of Wendy Meetze.

Running Time: 80 minutes and no intermission.

The Last Five Years plays through Sunday July 22, 2012 at The Heritage Players at The Rice Auditorium located at the Spring Grove Hospital Campus – 55 Wade Avenue, in Catonsville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 575-6645, or purchase them online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.