The piece debuted in Chicago around the turn of the century and then had a much-admired but short-lived off-Broadway run in 2001 with Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott as the star-crossed lovers/spouses Cathy and Jamie, whose courtship is told backwards and forwards.
Cathy starts at the end of the relationship (“Still Hurting”) and Jamie moves forward in time (“Shiksa Goddess” celebrates Jamie’s immediate attraction to Cathy). The two plot threads only meet at the wedding.
The songs are wonderful — the contrast between the two different trajectories makes “Last Five Years” almost unbearably poignant despite the frequent good humor of Brown’s lyrics about Jamie’s New York literary life and Cathy’s struggles as an actress.
A recording was made of the 2001 off-Broadway production which no doubt helped spur many regional productions over the past decade — next spring, Gordon Edelstein will present the show at Long Wharf Theatre — and a low-budget film version is forthcoming with Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick.
Last spring, Second Stage Theatre in New York produced a major revival with Adam Kantor and Betsy Wolfe. Luckily, for us, Ghostlight Records has released an excellent recording, produced by Brown, that demonstrates once again the power of this intimate musical theater piece.
“This production, this recording, this show, it’s the first time I feel like we all got everything right,” Brown writes in the liner notes. “I’ve never been as proud of anything in my entire career.”
That may or may not be true — the original cast recording with Butz and Scott is terrific, too — but the beautifully sung CD certainly reinforces the show’s reputation as a modern musical theater classic.