Chronology of a young marriage

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday May 25, 2016
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Zak Resnick and Margo Seibert, the young lovers in ACT's <i>The Last Five Years,</i> only briefly come together on stage as their stories are told through opposite chronologies. Photo: Kevin Berne
Zak Resnick and Margo Seibert, the young lovers in ACT's The Last Five Years, only briefly come together on stage as their stories are told through opposite chronologies. Photo: Kevin Berne

Despite frequent good reviews and even a Tony Award, it has seemed like Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown couldn't catch a break. He has said as much in interviews, expressing his frustration that years of work have resulted in disappointing New York runs of such musicals as Parade, The Bridges of Madison County, and Honeymoon in Vegas. You could include The Last Five Years in that list " its short off-Broadway run in 2001 made him think about quitting the business " but its popularity has only grown in the last 15 years. You can understand why by watching ACT's production at the Geary Theater, where the musical is receiving a top-flight production.

It's the story of a love affair, and in the opening moments, we see both how it ends and it begins. The story, told entirely through song, comes at us from two directions over the course of five years rendered in opposing chronological order. And so "Still Hurting," one of the sadder songs to open a musical, is a lament from Cathy, a struggling actress, after she has been left by her husband. That would be Jamie, a promising novelist, whom we meet in the next scene as he extols the beginning of the romance in the slap-happy "Shiksa Goddess." The two characters only have one song together, coming right in the middle of the show when their stories are briefly synchronized, as they warily profess their love in "The Next Ten Minutes."

Brown uses a variety of musical references in his songs, creating a score of knowing pastiche that finds novel ways to illuminate each stage in Cathy and Jamie's relationship. It comes across as a showcase for Brown's versatility, but the songs all find their ways to a believable emotional connection. (And it's no secret that Brown found material in his own failed marriage.) It also helps that they're presented in an attractive production with two engaging performances at its core.

Zak Resnick and Margo Seibert, bracingly amplified, display expressive voices and stage presences that allow their characters to flesh out beyond the musical notations that Brown has provided. Seibert gets to notably shine in "A Summer in Ohio," which offers a comic look at performing in summer stock, and "Climbing Uphill," in which she provides a self-deprecating internal monologue as she goes through the indignities of an actor's audition. Resnick also finds multiple opportunities to draw us in, from the merry Jewish parable of "The Schmuel Song" to the aching effort at saving a marriage in "If I Didn't Believe in You."

That director Michael Berresse was first a Tony-nominated dancer is evident in this production, which incorporates playful steps that quote from popular dance lexicons and provide subtext for the characters, while musical director Matt Castle coaxes a full-bodied sound from the six-piece orchestra. Tim Mackabee's stylish set is dominated by a hovering, donut-shaped installation piece made up of what looks like an explosion's debris. Callie Floor's costumes and Robert Wierzel's lighting also help evoke the passing years and changing locales.

Signals of the musical's growing popularity include a recent off-Broadway revival and even an unlikely film adaptation. ACT adds to its growing legacy with a production that may not turn out so well for the characters, but becomes a meaningful relationship for audiences.

 

The Last Five Years will run at the Geary Theater through June 5. Tickets are $20-$105. Call (415) 749-2228 or go to act-sf.org.