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TITG stages 'impressively entertaining' two-person show

Actors and orchestra master tough music

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - In The Last Five Years, the shows two characters meet only once on stage. Theatre in the Grove’s production of “The Last Five Years” represents the realization of a longtime dream for actors and directors James W. Grimes and Jenny Hauser.

The two-person musical is not part of TITG’s regular season, but the company is offering a special pre-season two-week run of this rarely produced one-act. Grimes and Hauser are making the most of this opportunity, and the results are impressively entertaining.

The show is in some ways quite stereotypical — boy meets girl, they fall in love, time passes, the relationship sours and they separate. However the structure is unique: the story of the five-year relationship is told by Jamie, played by Grimes, from its beginning to the end. Cathy, played by Hauser, tells her side in reverse, starting with the breakup of their relationship and working backwards to its inception. The only point in the show where the stories coincide is at the time of their engagement and wedding midway through the play. There is very little dialogue, as the tale is told through a series of 17 songs, all solos except for “The Next Ten Minutes,” the duet they sing in the middle.

Author and composer Jason Robert Brown’s score is a complex — and sometimes dissonant — mixture of many musical styles, and requires both control and a broad vocal range from the two performers. Grimes smoothly manages the frequent transitions into his head voice, and Hauser’s powerful soprano is well matched to the demands of this score.

While none of the songs — except perhaps Cathy’s poignant “Still Hurting” — are truly memorable on their own, they effectively and efficiently tell the story. Most impressive is the two actors’ ability to convey the nuances of their characters’ vast emotional shifts — New York nebbish to wunderkind and star-struck Ohio “shiksa goddess” to fragile failed wanna-be — through song.

In a show with this much music, the orchestra is key — and TITG has gathered a small but mighty group of artists, many drawn from local high school and college programs. Music Director and Conductor Emilee Buchanan, a Pacific University student completing her music education major, works wonders with piano, bass, violin, cello, bass and guitar. The music on opening night seemed flawless, and provided ideal support to the two vocalists.

In addition to actor/director, Grimes also holds title to set designer and builder and video designer, ensuring the final product fulfills his vision for the show. Sets are clever and extremely simple, which is essential when the action shifts with such frequency from one character and locale to another. Grimes’ use of video projection creates all the scenery needed to take us from New York townhouses to moonlit lakes without slowing down the pace of the production.

Because the show has only a two-week run, prospective audience members who hesitate may have a long wait before they have another opportunity to see “The Last Five Years.”

Due to mature language and themes, the show is not appropriate for younger viewers.

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