I took the month of January and part of February off from the studio to direct a show that has been on my list for some time. It would be poetic if that “some time” was five years. Maybe it’s close. This musical score is a favorite of mine, and has been for a long time. I’m also an avid follower and fan of the composer, Jason Robert Brown. The music of “The Last Five Years” engulfs you, and the emotional journey runs the entire color gamut of a rainbow paint splatter. The composer pulls at every last string of emotion, one stitch at a time.
I went into this project wanting to collaborate with artists who shared the same values I do when creating and working on a project. It was important to me that one of my good friends come aboard to musical direct, and that we find two performers who had believable chemistry. The rehearsal room for a show should be a place where artists can play, collaborate, feel appreciated, heard and share the desire to leave each rehearsal a better person. For some, community theater is about having fun, playing dress up and singing pretty music. For me, it’s about the artistic work and collaboration. Fact: musical theater is THE MOST collaborative art form out there. I’m there to dive into the text, do a score and script analysis, have discussion about real human emotions, experiences and conditions, and DO THE WORK to visually interpret the story. Our rehearsals for “The Last Five Years” were extraordinarily every one of those things and more.
Jason Robert Brown’s masterful writing chapters the relationship of Cathy and Jamie over five years in an episodic, musical masterpiece. As a composer, he is ever so literate and passionate. Events in this love story do not unfold in a linear progression of time: Jamie’s story is told from first kiss to last goodbye, while Cathy’s journey starts with the wreckage of the breakup and ends with that first kiss. JRB takes the threads of love and runs them in opposite directions, giving audiences the opportunity to see this relationship unfold one stitch at a time.
In crafting the story in this unconventional way, JRB brings light to the many moments of connection that could be – while fostering a raw story of disconnection, heartbreak and loss. We witness each of the characters’ story lines separately – an effort by the composer so that we as viewers don’t place blame on any one character for the demise of the relationship.
This love story sets the backdrop to a much deeper plot, which is about two young artists in a big city who struggle to find their identity. Jamie and Cathy are aching to find how they can artistically contribute to the world…and then they find each other.
The lasting works in the theatrical canon are infused with love stories — and this is one of them.
Under the strict tempo of the ticking clock, these two characters sail past each other, like ships in the night. Rarely in the same place, at the same time. At the end of the evening, we are left with two perspectives, and the chill of a beautifully written score.
This production would have been nothing without the musical leadership of our musical director, Reggie Gorter. Her expert, talented ear and eye were integral to our collaboration as a cast and crew. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have done this project without her. It was an honor to collaborate with you once again, friend.
I was awestruck by the talent of this cast. Samantha and Connor re-ignited, over and over, the embers of why I love the theater so much. Watching these two create their characters in this imaginary apartment, and in this imaginary love story, was inspiring and nothing short of memorable. I can’t wait to see what they do next. I just hope that I get to witness it – or better yet, be a part of it. The Pipestone Performing Arts Center was lucky to have such talent grace it’s stage. Samantha and Connor, thank you for sharing your gifts and for your friendship.
To the Calumet Players – thank you for selecting a musical that unveils raw human emotion, condition and experiences. I love a fairytale just like any other imaginative theater kid; but it was nice to work on and be part of something that was achingly human. To Kirby and Bailey, my four legged companions and confidants, I promise – we will get to the dog park soon.
Have I mentioned today, how lucky I am… to be in love with you?Jamie Wellerstein
I stand on a precipice. I struggle to keep my balance. I open myself. I open myself one stitchCathy Hiatt
at a time.