Wine Country Theatre’s current production takes audiences on an intimate journey of a love story told through song.
“The Last Five Years,” set in New York City in the present, portrays the relationship of between aspiring singer Cathy Hyatt (Melanie Portney) and novelist Jamie Wellerstein (Cody Pettit) from the individuals’ perspectives.
It’s a tale told forward and backward, starting with Cathy’s version of the events at the end of five years, counter balanced with Jamie’s take at the start of the romance.
The two characters only appear together in the middle of the story, when they get married.
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The stories through song are easy to follow, in spite of the unique order of presentation.
Cathy and Jamie go through their initial, bedazzled impressions of each other — first fantasizing, then pinching themselves with excitement when their attraction is reciprocated.
But, as in any relationship, when two people see each other as dreams come true, the actual human beings seldom fit the mold. They must adjust to unimaginable and often unacceptable variables or call it quits.
After Jamie’s first book is published, Cathy begins to resent the time he spends promoting his novel and working on the next. Additionally, her jealousy is aroused by the women who fawn over her husband at book signings and parties.
In spite of her talent, Cathy gets no callbacks after endless humiliating auditions and consequently begrudges Jamie’s success.
These are not spoilers, as the audience knows from the start that the two will end up going their separate ways, but the ending is nevertheless heartbreaking.
Director Gregg Wolff gets top-notch performances from the two highly talented actors with their gorgeous voices. The blocking is terrific, with a variety of poses and movements.
Wolff’s stage design consists of empty picture frames protruding from colorful square outlines on each side of the set at Villa San-Juliette Vineyard & Winery in Paso Robles. Footage of New York City’s Times Square, as well as still shots of women awaiting auditions and other relevant scenes are projected onto a fabric screen in the middle, along with the ever-changing date of the story’s action.
The moving pictures can be distracting, forcing the audience to choose between watching the screen or the adorable Pettit and darling Portney.
They sing accompanied by Tony Award-winning playwright/composer Jason Robert Brown’s recorded instrumentals, which initially sound like karaoke until the ears accustom to the speakers at the stage’s far ends.
Brown’s music is challenging, but the two cast members seemingly handle his unusual sound with ease. The musical reflects the pianist/composer’s unconventional harmonics mixed with dynamic rhythms. Brown’s unpredictable melodies seldom follow a four-meter line and contain unexpected notes.
Brown’s clever lyrics often incorporate internal rhymes. The songs range from funny and lovingly romantic to touchingly sad, angry and bitter.
Contact freelance journalist Lee Sutter at email@example.com.