The Last Five Years, a Four Seasons Theatre production at UW Music Hall, is a musical with a love knot at its center. But from there the story line unravels in two directions: yesterday and tomorrow, her story and his. The tricky plot device works for the most part because everyone knows this story so well. How did we make such a mess when we love each other so much?
Amanda Poulson (Cathy) and David Niles (Jamie), both way-above-average vocal talents, are well cast in this shifting scenario set on a divided stage: his and hers. We get the idea with the first two solos, Cathy's "Still Hurting" and Jamie's "Shiksa Goddess." She's telling her story at the bitter end of their five years and he's starting at the beginning, when he was falling hard for her. Jamie and Cathy only sing together once, at their wedding mid-play.
Jamie's a writer on his way to the top, maybe "Moving Too Fast," as he'd be the first to say. But Cathy's worried. Her acting career isn't going anywhere - too many "Summers in Ohio" doing summer stock, "rooming with a stripper and her snake, Wayne."
Director Andrew Abrams' two singers are authentic actors as well. Niles is an ebullient, physical Jamie - very comfortable in his skin, a guy who radiates confidence as he strides around his half of the set. Poulson's Cathy is tucked into herself, but she's still without being calm: "I will not be the girl who is stuck in the burbs/With the baby, the dog and the garden of herbs." Love and career dreams on a collision course.
Shuffling the stories adds a sharp emotional poignancy. There's a sense of foreboding beneath every love song. Jason Robert Brown's musical score is best when it's jazzy or copping from folk music, but the lyrics are consistently clever and savvy, and - nice touch - everything's accompanied by a little six-piece orchestra.
Four Seasons Theatre, a recent addition to Madison's community-theater scene, plans to focus on musical theater as well as outreach programs for high school and college students. Its ambitious inaugural season (including Aspects of Love, Les Misérables and Ragtime) was followed by a knockout production of Sweeney Todd last August. Miss Saigon is scheduled for March.
Welcome to town.