In a two-week West End season celebrating contemporary American musicals, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years and Jonathan Larson’s tick… tick… BOOM! will be staged back-to-back next month at the Duchess Theatre, performed by a four-strong company of West End favourites: Julie Atherton, Paul Keating, Leon Lopez and Paul Spicer.

The Last Five Years runs from 6 to 10 May, followed by tick… tick… BOOM! from 13 to 17 May. They run under the collective umbrella Notes from New York at the Duchess Theatre, a progression for the regular series of one-off concerts which was launched in 2003. Tickets are priced, below the West End norm, from £10 to £30 with a season ticket for both shows available at £50.

Julie Atherton, during her break between Avenue Q closing at the Noel Coward and reopening in June at the Gielgud Theatre, stars in both productions. Atherton and Paul Spicer reprise their performances in the Notes from New York fifth birthday gala staging of The Last Five Years at the Theatre Royal Haymarket last October (See 28 May 2008). The production is reconceived for its new home, directed by Amelia Sears.

The Last Five Years traces a marital breakdown over five years, with the husband, newly published novelist Jamie, starting at the couple’s first meeting and ending in the present, and by the wife, aspiring actress Cathy, working backwards from the break-up.

First seen in Chicago in 2001, The Last Five Years was staged Off-Broadway in 2002 and received its UK premiere at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory three years ago (See News, 21 Jun 2006). Robert Brown’s other credits include the Tony Award-winning Parade, which had its UK premiere at the Donmar Warehouse last year, and Songs for a New World, which won a Whatsonstage.com Award after its UK premiere at the Bridewell Theatre in 2001. His most recently musical, 13, opened on Broadway last autumn.

For Jonathan Larson’s posthumously produced three-hander tick… tick… BOOM!, Atherton is then joined by Paul Keating (whose musical credits include Little Shop of Horrors, Tommy, Closer to Heaven and The Full Monty) and Leon Lopez (recently seen in the Remixed West End staging of Larson’s best known work, Rent). Hannah Chissick directs.

On 25 January 1996, the night of Rent’s first Off-Broadway preview, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm. He was 35 years old. Rent went on to win the Pulitzer Prise for Drama and mount productions in the West End and around the world.

Larson first conceived of tick… tick… BOOM!, an autobiographical piece about a frustrated artist approaching 30, in 1990 as a musical monologue, in which one man would perform the part of multiple characters. It was adapted for three actors by Proof playwright David Auburn and premiered in New York in 2001. The musical had its London premiere, again at the Menier Chocolate Factory, in 2005 (See News, 14 Apr 2005).

It’s the week of Jonathan’s 30th birthday. His girlfriend wants to get married and move out of the city - tick… His best friend has bought a BMW and is moving uptown - tick… and Jon’s waiting tables, trying to write the great American musical and feeling the pressure to choose between holding onto dreams or selling out for money - BOOM!

Notes from New York at the Duchess Theatre is presented by Jamie Hendry Productions and Neil Eckersley and Paul Spicer for Speckulation Entertainment. Both productions are designed by Morgan Large, with lighting by David Howe and sound by Gareth Owen and Ed Borgnis.

Currently at the Duchess, Nicholas de Jongh’s debut play Plague Over England now finishes its season on 2 May (See Today’s Other Newss). The musicals are followed by the Chichester Festival transfer of Ronald Harwood’s pair of Second World War plays, Collaboration and Taking Sides, which star Michael Pennington and run in rep from 20 May to 22 August (See News, 18 Feb 2009).

- by Terri Paddock