The Last Five Years

Published: May 16th 2010
in Culture » Stage

Eric Craig and Adrienne Merrell in The Last Five Years

With The Last Five Years, the final show of Angelwalk Theatre’s inaugural season, composer Jason Robert Brown has taken an average boy-meets-girl story and managed to tell it in a whole new way. The story revolves around Jamie and Catherine, two young New Yorkers who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. Through monologues and songs each tells us his or her side of the story, except Jamie (Eric Craig) starts at the day they met and moves forward, while Catherine starts at the end of their relationship and works her way backwards.


If this sounds like a gimmick, it’s not – the story moves fluidly back and forth between periods of their relationship, allowing us to piece together the arc of their relationship bit by bit. And it’s an interesting way to look at a relationship – relationships are complex and this musical acknowledges that by showing both perspectives. Jamie is a rising young novelist whose success starts going to his head; Cathy’s acting career is going nowhere, a problem that forces her to move to Ohio to find work while he stays in New York. She’s jealous of his success and feels neglected; he’s disappointed that she won’t support him the way he does for her, and develops a wandering eye.


Surprisingly, religious differences are not a problem in this marriage: as Jewish-born Jamie sings in “Shiksa Goddess,” he’s tired of being set up with Jewish girls and is immediately drawn to Cathy’s ‘shiksa’ allure.


The Last Five Years is told almost completely through song, and it’s here that a marked difference between the two stars emerges. As Cathy, Adrienne Merrell has a lovely, soulful voice that works particularly well in the more haunting numbers. Her opening song, “Still Hurting,” is full of raw grief and confusion over what led Jamie to leave her, while “See I’m Smiling” carries a note of barely suppressed desperation as she tries to persuade him to work things out.


While appealing, Eric Craig as Jamie doesn’t have the same vocal range and seemed to be straining at high notes. He does well in “A Miracle Would Happen,” as he struggles with the temptations fame brings, but fails to convey emotion as clearly as Merrell does. Another problem is the lack of chemistry between the two, which makes it harder to really feel what’s at stake for the couple.


Nevertheless there’s a nice variety in the melodies, even if the lyrics are sometimes overly sentimental, and the direction is sharp: both actors slide effortlessly between time periods, often changing outfits quickly and subtly onstage, without confusing the two periods. The problem for me was that the decline of their relationship felt better developed than its initial rise. While I understood their reasons for breaking up, it was harder to discern what powerful force brought them together in the first place, and thus feel as moved as I could have felt by their eventual dissolution. Still, the nuanced observations about love, marriage, and drifting apart (Brown based this musical on his own failed marriage) will touch a nerve with anyone who has had to let go of someone they love.




The Last Five Years runs until May 23 at the Studio Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts. For more information, visit

Related articles: (stage, the last five years, angelwalk, brian goldenberg, jen shuber, jason robert brown)

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