Drama SchoolMusicalNorth WestReview

The Last Five Years – Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Book/Music/Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

Director: Jordan Alexander

Reviewer: John Roberts

Occassionalya production comes along of a show that makes you reach for your original cast recording – sometimes this is a positive reaction as you want to relive the music and production you have just witnessed. Sometimes it’s because the production you have just witnessed has failed the source material so much that you need to remember how good it really is… Sadly this production by LIPA students under the company name CMET Productions falls heavily into the latter.

Jason Robert Brown’s semi-autobiographical song cycle has been doing the rounds for well over a decade now and even has its own film starring Hollywood favourite Anna Kendrick in the lead role of Cathy – so it’s safe to say that any future production is going to be hard pressed to find something original to do with it. Instead it should make sure the creative team and the cast rise to the challenge of creating a piece which is truthful, honest and sensitive to the composer’s original vision. Something which Jordan Alexander’s production severely fails on.

Alexander puts on both Musical Director and Director hat for this production of The Last Five Years (a last minute replacement for the previously advertised Pasek and Paul musical Dogfight) and through that decision he lacks both subtlety and vision on both sides of the table. At times the music is so loud and harsh that you can barely hear the performers over the tinny yet excruciatingly amplified six-piece band – who it must be said are not the tightest held together ensemble, while his own placement on the stage becoming a real distraction to the audience.

As Cathy, Emily O’Brien is certainly the strongest of the two performers – here she really grasps the acting side of the role but her vocal performance is generally underpowered throughout the majority of the show – however saying that she really nails her rendition of I Can Do Better Than That. The role of Jamie is a strange beast, he’s highly unlikeable (Jason Robert Brown writing about himself) and there’s little redeeming qualities to his egotistical character, yet there are opportunities for any actor portraying Jamie to find real depth and colour to the role. Adam Handford sadly is the wrong actor for the job, not only is his voice fried and cracked, but he fails on almost every song to find the melody line and stay in key while his characterisation is full of broad-strokes and some eggy gesturing. less really is more could be a lesson learnt for this actor. But these things should really have been ironed out and sorted by Director Alexander at the earliest opportunity.

It would appear that after the last minute cancellation of Dogfight – the production company have opted for what would, on the outside look like an easy fix and save them face from a cancelled show – however in rushing every aspect and cutting corners in the rehearsal process they have probably done themselves more of a disservice than any favours. A harsh lesson – yes, but one which these young theatre makers can indeed learn from – musicals need time to grow, real commitment from all involved and respect to the process and it seems in the rush to get a show on and openhas resulted in all three sadly being forgotton.

Runs until 14 May, 2016

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