New Hazlett's 'Last Five Years' aims to be musical with heart-wrenching depths
Sometimes, a couple gets into trouble because they come at the relationship from opposite directions.
That's basically the hook behind Tony-award winning playwright Jason Robert Brown's musical “The Last Five Years.”
Front Porch Theatricals will launch its 2015 season May 22 with the show at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.
Based loosely on Brown's first failed marriage, the show uses an unconventional form in which husband Jamie Wellerstein and his wife, Cathy Hiatt, tell the story of their relationship in reverse timelines.
The play opens with Wellerstein, a promising writer, at the beginning of the relationship, while Hiatt, a struggling actress, begins at the end of their marriage.
The characters interact directly just once, for a wedding duet, when their timelines intersect in the middle of the production.
“The way it is presented, you get a sense of the relationship's course from two different perspectives,” says Leon S. Zionts, a co-producer of the show and one of the founders of Front Porch.
Alternately funny and poignant, the story is ultimately a romance, Zionts says.
“What will keep the audience engaged is the compelling power of relationships. You know you might be watching a train wreck — you know how the romance will end — but you can't help but watch. You love the love and understand the pain.”
Mostly sung, “The Last Five Years” has a score that draws on a variety of genres and will evoke strong feelings in the audience, says Ross-based actor-rock musician David Toole, who plays Wellerstein.
“The music just floors you,” he says. “The way Brown writes, the lyrics bring out more emotion than spoken words ever could.”
Even those who aren't typically drawn to musicals will find “The Last Five Years” compelling, says Erin Lindsey Krom, a Dormont native living in New York.
“It's beautiful in the most heart-wrenching way,” she says. “I've always loved the music. It's been a dream of mine to perform.”
Despite their failings, the characters are sympathetic and likeable, and they will resonate “100 percent” with the audience; so, too, will aspects of their saga, Toole says.
What becomes clear as their stories unfold is the importance of simple communication in a relationship, Toole says, “and learning to recognize that what the other person needs may not be what you think they want.”
Toole has appeared with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and Pittsburgh Musical Theater. He is frontman for the original rock band “Identity X,” and for the pop-rock cover band “The Key of X.”
Krom, a Point Park University grad, has appeared with the Civic Light Opera and Pittsburgh Public Theater, and in theaters around the country, including The Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Maine, and Everyman Theatre in Baltimore.
Performing in her hometown is a treat, she says. “I have tons of family and friends here, and grew up in Pittsburgh's artistic community, so they always come and support me.”
“The Last Five Years” debuted in 2001 after Brown won a Tony for his work on “Parade.”
“The Last Five Years” generated controversy when Brown's ex-wife, the actress Theresa O'Neill, threatened to sue, alleging the story was based too closely on her marriage. A film adaptation of the play starring Anna Kendrick was released this year.
Zionts says Front Porch chose “The Last Five Years” because it fits with the company's mission.
“We try to do musicals of meaning, musicals that have some substance,” Zionts says. “We're not against happy musicals, but we don't do just happy musicals. We do musicals with depth.”
The production is directed by Scott Calhoon, with musical direction by Deana Muro.
Deborah Weisberg is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.