Jason Robert Brown’s 80-minute song cycle for a married couple meeting and growing apart, The Last Five Years, is competently crafted and extremely well sung by Lauren Samuels and Christopher Pym.
But, oh dear me, it sounds like so many other little falling in and out of love musicals of the past ten years and beyond (this one dates from 2001), with little colour in the characterisation, and little sharpness in the lyrics.
Robert Brown is best known for Parade, directed on Broadway by Hal Prince, and Lauren Samuels for coming third in the search for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz on BBC television; she sings beautifully and is a sympathetic stage presence – and she gets to wear red shoes, after all!
Her side of the story as Cathy, an aspiring actress, is told in reverse chronology from the break-up, with Pym’s Jamie – a nicely controlled performance even though he’s unconvincing as either a writer or a Jewish lothario – following a conventional forward trajectory until their time lines intersect on their first song together.
As with last year’s Tomorrow Morning at the Landor, a similarly love-sick bout of anaemic musical theatre, director Drew Baker’s production values are surprisingly polished in so modest a venue (the Tabard, handily situated right by Turnham Green tube, and a network of bus routes, has been going since 1985; amazingly, this was my first visit).
There’s a mirrored set by Ben M Rogers, good sound design by Andrew Johnson and a ten-piece band – bigger than in most West End musicals these days – led by Lee Freeman, semi-visible behind black gauze.
A lovely “valse macabre” sounds irritatingly familiar, but most of the music is blandly sub-Sondheim-ish, the temperature set at a permanently modest conversational level with little urgency or devilry about it. And it sounds as though it could have been composed at any time in the distant past or immediate future and no-one could really care less.