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Review: The Last Five Years. Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown

The Last Five Years written and composed by Jason Robert Brown. Gold Coast Little Theatre. Directed by Amy-Louise Anderson. Musical director Michelle Watkins. Vocal director David Willis. Features Heidi Enchelmaier and Jamie Watt and in alternate shows Susannah Kwan and Flynn Anderson. Musicians Lawrie Esmond (guitar/keyboard), Rodrigo Machado (bass guitar), Jem Nicholls (percussion/guitar). Licensed exclusively by Music Theatre International (Australasia). Booking Phone: 07 55322096. Season ends February 18.

Marital relationships have had their up and downs and ins and outs since Eve rocked the boat with an offer of that forbidden apple for Adam’s dinner.

So it should come as no surprise that US musical creator Jason Robert Brown’s, The Last Five Years, is all about the birth and demise of a marital union.

What might come as a surprise – or even a shock if the audience is not forewarned – is the structure of the narrative and the almost none existence of the spoken word.

The story in this two-hander is told in 14 songs performed by the two ill-fated lovers in one 90-minute stretch. There’s no interval.

And just to give the work an extra twist the characters live in two worlds.

Jamie (played by Jamie Watt and Flynn Anderson on alternate nights) takes us from the beginning of the relationship to its failed conclusion.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend, later wife and finally ex Cathy ( Heidi Enchelmaier and Susannah Kwan) takes the audience from the end back to the beginning.

The two performers are on stage for the duration of the unraveling, but only inter-act in one small scene in the middle when they marry.

The format isn’t quite as complicated as it might sound, although some audience members might miss the dramatic sparks which come in on-stage confrontations.

Brown’s show has certainly made its mark nationally in the US - premiering in Chicago back in 2001 before heading to off-Broadway the following year – and then heading overseas.

It’s been everywhere from off-West End in London to theatres in Europe, Asia and Australia and in 2014 was made into a movie earning 60 per cent approval rating from the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.

Now under the steady hand of director Amy-Louise Anderson, music director Michelle Watkins and vocal coach David Willis it’s having its Coast debut at the Gold Coast Little Theatre.

The story, inspired by Brown’s own failed marriage, created its own controversy when it burst onto the scene.

His ex-wife Thersea O’Neill sued him for violating the non-disclosure agreement of their divorce and Brown in turn sued her for interfering with his creative work.

Despite the legal dramas The Last Five Years is a familiar tale of passion gone sour when a couple discover they have different needs and agendas.

Jamie is an author on the raise – with a roving eye – while Cathy is a would be on stage performer who is going through a shaky patch.

In the opening night show Heidi Enchelmaier and Jamie Watt gave solid performances and perhaps, more importantly, demonstrated that their had the voices for the parts.

While the on-stage the musical group proved once again that a live band trumps a tape backing every time, and gives a show that added extra.

Brown’s musical styles cross a number of boundaries including pop, jazz, classical, klezmer (an instrumental musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Easter Europe), Latin, blues, rock and folk.

Director Amy-Louise Anderson runs a tight ship and keeps the action moving along while her set design, with Kim Reynolds, makes for a busy domestic scene.

Jamie and Cathy’s story is a familiar one, but the format adds a new dimension for a new generation.

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