Review: ‘The Last Five Years’ by Montgomery Playhouse

The Last Five Years is a modern musical that follows the 5-year romantic relationship between Catherine, an aspiring actress, and Jamie, an aspiring writer, from their first date to the final days of their marriage.

Lauren-Nicole Gabel and Matthew Ratz in The Last Five Years. Photo courtesy of Montgomery Playhouse.

Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, the story is told in alternating songs, with Catherine beginning the story at the end of the marriage and working backward toward happier days, and Jamie starting at the beginning and moving toward the inevitable end of the relationship.

While the two characters are both on stage the entire time, they only come together at the center of the show, the point where Catherine’s backward and Jamie’s forward meet: their wedding. The Last 5 Years has been translated into a handful of languages and was named one of the Time Magazine’s ten best shows of 2001.

With just two characters in the show, the actors who play them better be engaging, and Lauren-Nicole Gabel delivers an intense performance as Catherine. Ms. Gabel has the ability to make the audience feel the character’s pain and anguish from the very first minutes of the story. Through small movements and facial expressions, Ms. Gabel ably conveys the character’s feelings and gives the audience insight into the inner workings of this complicated relationship.

As Jamie, Matthew Ratz is an able storyteller, but at the performance I saw, his difficulty in hitting the many high notes necessary for the part, as well as minor sound issues, detracted from his performance. The highlight of his performance for me was “The Schumel Song,” a story within the story about the importance of following your dreams.

Lauren-Nicole Gabel and Matthew Ratz in The Last Five Years. Photo courtesy of Montgomery Playhouse.

The set, designed by David Jones, is simple but practical, with the skyline of New York City, the setting for most of the show, in the background, and just a few platforms to delineate spaces. Director David Dossey provided the actors with the ability to share the stage during each other’s songs, remaining both in view but unobtrusive, giving the audience another insight into each character’s personality and emotional state.

The band, led by Music Director Paige Rammelkamp, provided an excellent soundtrack for the story, and the violin and cello by Audrey Chang and Carol Anne Bosco were particularly beautiful to listen to. The score draws upon a number of musical styles including pop, jazz, rock, and klezmer, a music tradition created by Jews of Eastern Europe.

The Last Five Years is presented in collaboration with Theater CBT, a local non-profit theater group that is an active part of Congregation B’nai Tzedek and focuses on theater with Jewish themes. In this show, Jamie is of the Jewish faith although only one song, “Shiksa Goddess,” Jamie’s retelling of how he and Catherine meet, falls into this category.

For an out of the ordinary way to look at storytelling, or for a romantic tale that packs an emotional punch, consider The Last Five Years, an intimate musical that will get you thinking about the story of your own relationship and how it might be told forward or backward.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission

The Last 5 Years plays through September 23rd, 2018, at Montgomery Playhouse at the Randolph Road Theater—4010 Randolph Road, in Silver Spring. Tickets may be purchased online.

1 COMMENT

  1. I found this production utterly endearing! I was able to see its Sunday matinée, and I must say, despite the technical shortcomings the author mentions (which are completely dismiss-able given that this is a volunteer-driven theatrical production), it was clear that the actors had worked their butts off to fully embody these challenging– and, in my opinion, nearly-impossible– roles. It was incredible, too, to hear such rich and multifaceted sound from, what I later learned, a four-piece live orchestra.

    I thought this production surpassed what most local theaters are doing in terms of inventiveness and performance quality. Do NOT miss this production. It is a truly rare gem of community theater!

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