PCS Blog

The Rise of a Musical: “The Last Five Years”

Posted by Claudie Fisher | 14 April 2014

Jason Robert Brown wrote The Last Five Years while he was traveling the country as conductor and musical director for the national tour of his popular musical, Parade.  Though Brown claims the story is not autobiographical, it can be said that it was very loosely based on his brief marriage to actress Theresa O’Neil, who later sued Brown, claiming it too closely resembled their relationship. Of the reverse chronology used in the show (as the story begins, Jamie is at the beginning of the relationship and Cathy is at the end – through inter-cutting scenes, we watch Jamie move forward in time as Cathy moves backward), Brown has said, “it seemed like the perfect way to tell the story, both because it solved the problem of the audience getting ahead, and because on a metaphorical level, it said exactly what I wanted the show to say: these are two people who were never really in the same place at the same time.”
Jason Robert Brown, photo by Kurt Sneldon.
The Last Five Years has risen to cult fame, capturing hearts and garnering the kind of fandom that seems to ensure its place in the musical canon. It all began in 2001 when The Last Five Years took the stage for its world premiere at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois, starring Lauren Kennedy and Norbert Leo Butz. Though it ran only two months, the show earned much critical acclaim and broke box office records. "Exhilaration, so intense that it brings tears of joy, is at hand in the premiere of The Last Five Years,” proclaimed the Chicago Tribune’s senior theater critic Richard Christiansen in his review. The show sold more tickets in a single weekend than any other production at that theater, in the company's then 26-year history. Time magazine later named it one of the top 10 shows of 2001.
The following year, it headed east for its New York debut, this time Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre, with Sherie Rene Scott starring opposite Butz. It earned Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics, and the 2002 original cast recording sealed the popularity of the musical. It was the first cast album released by Sh-K-Boom Records and remains one of its best-selling albums.


The success of the cast album and hundreds of regional productions that followed gradually brought The Last Five Years to the cult popularity it enjoys today. A massively popular Off-Broadway revival at Second Stage Theatre in 2013 further propelled the mania. Directed by Jason Robert Brown himself, with Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor taking on the challenging roles, the production broke box office records for an Off-Broadway institution and became the longest running production in Second Stage’s history. Sh-K-Boom Records captured this hit production with a second cast album.


The Last Five Years has enjoyed thousands of productions worldwide, with hit shows in Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France and the Philippines. It has been translated into several other languages, including Dutch, Japanese, German and Italian. A feature film is slated to be released soon, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan (with a cameo by Sherie Rene Scott). Directed and adapted by Richard LaGravenese, and produced by Sh-K-Boom Records, the film was shot in just 21 days. Fans are eagerly awaiting its distribution. It is clear the enthusiasm will only grow for this touching, intimate musical.

The Last Five Years runs April 26 — May 11.




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