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Kensington Arts Theatre The Last Five Years

By • Mar 11th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown
Kensington Arts Theatre
Kensington Town Hall, Kensington, MD
Through March 19th
90 minutes
$20/$17 Seniors and Students/$13 Kensington Residents
Reviewed March 5th, 2011

The Last Five Years is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. It is the story of a couple with a slight twist. He tells the story from the first meeting forwards while she relates the same story in reverse: from the “goodbye letter” to the first meeting. This is a musical with some really neat haunting melodies that weave a story of love and heartbreak you will not soon forget.

The story opens with Cathy Hyatt on stage right singing about the “goodbye letter” she just received from Jamie. The sorrow appeared real and Michelle Simon did a commendable job of spending the next hour and a half remembering the last five years of her life with Jamie. As she reminisced about her time as Jamie’s wife you could see her get younger. Simon’s singing stayed strong through the evening and it was nice to watch her go back in time from the angry woman wanting her career to go somewhere to the loyal supporter of Jamie’s early writings, to the wedding and the beginning of a friendship and the first date. Simon’s whole outlook seemed to change as did the music and in the closing scene she and Jamie moved to opposite sides of the stage and Simon was the hopeful one while Jamie was saddened by the failed marriage.

Jamie Wellerstein started on stage left and told the story forward. Wellerstein was played by Ryan Burke. As a struggling writer, Burke went from puppy love falling head over heels in love with Cathy. Then he moved on to his career and Cathy sadly became his security blanket until one day that was not enough for her, but more than enough for Burke. Sadly Jamie found that strong love in the beginning of the musical spiral down at the end of five years. Burke’s voice was equally strong, however sometimes disappeared when he tried to hit the high tenor or the low bass lines in the score. Cathy sometimes faded a bit.

The Scenic Designer and Master Carpenter Matt Karner created two small, but detailed offices, a publishing office for Jamie and a more flashy theater office for Cathy. The lighting by Designer Baron Pugh and Patricia Talmadge with the use of the stars gave color and added to the drama unfolding on stage. A large scrim was made to seem as if it were actually photos in a photo album. Different scenes would appear behind the scrim and move the play forward, although one of the scenes that took place in the “photo album” late in the show I really can’t imagine it being photographed.

This heart-warming and heart-breaking musical score that tells a sad story of love and breakup at the same time from two different directions.

From The Director

“Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” –Alfred Hitchcock

The Last Five Years is the story of two lives….lived together, but told separately. Jason Robert Brown’s musical rehashes the tried and true boy-meets-girl scenario, but introduces a singular clever conceit: one character tells the story from their initial meeting to their eventual breakup, (I assure you this is no spoiler), while the other character tells the story in reverse.

I was mesmerized by the music upon hearing its first notes: haunting strings that foretold the drama to unfold, and was equally captivated by the concept. I knew I wanted to take the challenge of this musical, yet was frightened (ok, terrified) by the reality of what that undertaking meant: getting the audience to believe and emotionally invest in a couple who barely spend five minutes together on stage.

I long admired Mr. Brown’s concept and wanted to respect its basic tenets. Yet, I wanted to give the audience more than just 90 minutes of beautiful music. I wanted to give them a couple to root for…and ultimately mourn for. I hope I have succeeded on all counts.

L5Y faithful may bristle at some of the “liberties” I have taken. After all, you really can’t please everyone (although somehow, my futile attempt to do just that continues). However, I hope those liberties I have employed are faithful to Mr. Brown’s initial vision and that audiences will truly embrace Jamie and Cathy’s journeys – not just as a beautiful song cycle, but as a piece of genuine drama.

Craig Pettinati

Photo Gallery

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Photos provided by Kensington Arts Theatre.


  • Jamie Wellerstein: Ryan Burke
  • Cathy Hyatt: Michelle Simon


  • Producer/Director: Craig Pettinati
  • Asst. Director: Kevin Garrett
  • Music Director: David Rohode
  • Stage Manager: Dani Stoller
  • Scenic Design/Master Carpenter: Matt Karner
  • Scenic Painting Design: Matt Karner
  • Set Construction/Painting Crew: Mike Ricci, Joel Richon, Matt Karner,Kevin Joyce, Jenna Ballard, Jane NguyenCraig Pettinati, Lenora Spahn, Kevin Garrett, Michelle Simon, Doe B. Kim
  • Properties/Scenic Decoration: Darnell Morris, Jane Nguyen
  • Lighting Design: Baron Pugh, Patricia Talmadge
  • Master Electrician: Nick Arancibia
  • Lighting Execution: Lenora Spahn
  • Sound Design: Kevin Garrett
  • Sound Execution: Mike Ricci, Kevin Garrett
  • Costume Design: Christine Pressau
  • Makeup/Hair Design: The Cast
  • Program Cover/Photography: Arnie Achenbach
  • Program Design/House Manager: Doe B. Kim
  • Orchestra
    • Violin: Marcia McIntyre
    • Cello 1: Virginia Gardner
    • Cello 2: Tom Zebovitz
    • Guitar: Rick Peralta
    • Bass: Rick Netherton

    Disclaimer: Kensington Arts Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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    One Response »

    1. I just updated a typo in the review that was pointed out by an anonymous commenter. If you’d like your comment posted to this page, you need to provide your real name and email address. Thanks.