It’s been a long time coming, but finally the West End premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years, which set the US alight in 2001, has arrived. The structure of this musical is rather unique in the sense that it tells the story of a New York couple, Jamie and Cathy, in snapshots heading in opposite directions. The two narratives only meeting for one brief moment in the middle of the show as their stories cross paths on their wedding day.
The songs are fantastic; they are the kind of songs you will find yourself humming for weeks to come. ‘Shiksa Godess’ is a hilarious song where Jamie falls in love with Cathy aware that his mother would be horrified to know he is dating a girl who isn’t Jewish like him. Cathy, an aspiring actress, has a sequence of songs that represent her in auditions. Not only do they become increasingly funny as the show progresses but even when Samantha Barks tries to sing badly – well, let’s just say it just isn’t possible. She has a beautifully powerful voice and the songs really allow her to show that off.
Both Barks and Jonathan Bailey are sensational in their roles. Bailey goes from a cheeky young man just out of college, who is enjoying his success to a slightly older and serious man, however a laddish arrogance follows him throughout. Cathy starts off quite pensive and hurt by her less successful career and gallivanting partner but as the show progresses, Barks shows off a delightful funny side that although unexpected – shows just how talented she really is.
The story attempts to show both sides of the relationship and make the audience consider their own roles both in relationships and in the professional world but it occasionally falls short. Narratively, it feels as if there are gaps in the story as Jamie comes across as a career man who only marries to tick a box in his life and Cathy can seem a bit unreasonable being jealous of the success of her husband.
Despite this, The Last Five Years leaves the audience with a lot to consider about themselves and some catchy tunes they won’t forget in a hurry.
The Last Five Years plays St James Theatre until December 3.
Photo: Scott Rylander