THE LAST FIVE YEARS at Cygnet Theatre

Love is never easy, and breakups are even harder. Yet the musical THE LAST FIVE YEARS now playing at Cygnet Theatre through November 17th has compelling performances and impressive vocals which make this musical easy to love.

Jamie (Michael Louis Cusimano) and Cathy (Racquel Williams) are the couple whose relationship and seemingly opposite character directions are the subject of this affecting musical. The story of these two artist; Jamie is a writer, and Cathy is an aspiring actress, is told in a style similar to their relationship. They’re telling the same story but they’re really only fully focused on each other at one time in their relationship.

Told in alternating perspectives, we find a tearful Cathy recounting their relationship from the end towards the beginning, and Jamie starting fully of the giddy energy that only comes at the first bluish of love. As the show goes on and their stories progress, we see their love story, their passion, and their problems progress. The couple only physically connects in the same moment in the middle of the show.

Directed by Rob Lufty, this show eschews the more traditional staging of the piece where each character is alone on the stage for each of their songs. Instead, Lufty has them sharing the stage, with each moment triggered by something as they pack or unpack their boxes and memories.

As the number is performed, you see the other character acting out the originating moment. This allows for a richer, and more poignant understanding of the relationship that hits the audiences in a more tangible way of the ups and downs of this doomed relationship.

When Cathy finds some preserved flowers and sadly sings “Jamie has decided to move on“, behind her in the shadows we see Jamie with the same bouquet of flowers excitedly reaching out to hand them to her at the beginning of their relationship.

All of this staging is nothing without the performances, and Cusimano and Williams are excellent with these challenging characters and vocally demanding score. Williams vocals soar with beautiful tone and phrasing while Cusimano excels with humor and charm. Their middle of the show duet is incredibly sweet and romantic and that much more bittersweet as the audience knows what is coming up next for them both.

The lyrics are expressive, setting up all the information on the place and situation, in a conversational style. It makes the age old musical issue of bursting into song seem more natural; these two artists are speaking and then as emotions rise (good or bad) they can’t help but burst into song to express themselves.

Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, this show has some amazingly complex music that is performed beautifully by the band (Erika Boras Tesi and Diana Elledge on cello, Sean LaPerruque on violin, Mackenzie Leighton on bass and Jim Mooney on guitar) lead by music director/orchestrator and pianist Patrick Marion. The gorgeous cello and violin seem to especially tug at the heartstrings.

Set by Jason Humphres is full of moving boxes scattered around, and a flurry of pages as their story and memories spill out onto the stage. Lighting by Anne E. McMill is lovely and transitions between the songs and moods expertly. In one moment, the use of a spotlight and Jamie sums up his character quite succinctly and humorously.

Jamie and Cathy may not have been meant of each other, but this musical shows when they are performed well, they are a magical musical pairing.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is playing at the Cygnet Theatre through November 17th. For show time and ticket information go to www.cygnettheatre.com

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