The Last Five Years at Sierra Madre Playhouse

The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown’s musical rendition of a failing marriage between a young novelist and his actress wife, has been widely produced since its premiere in 2001 and was made into a film with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordon. The show was the subject of a lawsuit from Brown’s former wife, Theresa O’Neill, who claimed that it too closely followed the facts of their marriage.

Brown is one of the most gifted composers working on Broadway today and has written a number of shows, including Parade, 13 and Bridges of Madison County. His mastery of music, lyrics and story is vividly on display on this two-character, which recounts the painful dissolution of a love that what genuine and heartfelt.

The Last Five Years. Photo by Luque Photography

The strength of Brown’s work is its simplicity and honest, both in the music and lyrics. Without flowery flourishes, Brown’s music touches the heart in simple, truthful terms. “Still Hurting,” “Summer in Ohio” and “If I Didn’t Believe in You” are examples of Brown’s range from pathos to humor to despair.

The production of The Last Five Years at Sierra Madre Playhouse, starring Jayde Mitchell and Jackie Bonsignore, directed by Josh Shaw, was a credible rendition of Brown’s piece. Bonsignore turned in a solid performance as Cathy, riding the waves of emotion from engagement to breakup, and Mitchell was often inspiring as Jamie, who struggles mightily to save the marriage, though it seems doomed from the start.

Brown’s musical is essentially a chamber piece, with the emotions on display subtly through the quiet desperation of the songs. Director Shaw amped up the performances a bit too much for the piece, with the performers belting when they should be more sorrowful and restrained. This had the effect of distancing the audience rather than drawing us into the character’s pain.

Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to see Brown’s tender musical on Southern California stages and we are all eagerly awaiting the just-announced Broadway production of the show in Spring of 2025.

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