[Note: Click here for all REP East reviews]
Back when I was in school, tests often required one to compare and contrast. This came to mind today as we saw “The Last 5 Years” at the REP East (MySpace) in Newhall, for last July we saw “The Last 5 Years” at The Pasadena Playhouse. For those unfamiliar with the show, The Last 5 Years tells the story of a marriage that didn’t work.This is done with an interesting plot device: she tells the story from the breakup to the first meeting, while he tells the story from the first meeting to the breakup. She and He alternate songs, meeting only in the middle (the marriage).
In my prior review, I took the opportunity to compare and contrast “The Last 5 Years” with another marriage musical, “I Do! I Do!”. The former is about a marriage that fails; the latter is about one that works. Back then, I hypothesized that Jamie and Kathy’s marriage failed because they were more married to their careers than each other. There was a lack of cross-dependency and caring that was present in the successful marriage of Michael and Agnes (from “I Do! I Do!”). I think this came across even more in the REP East production, perhaps because of the more intimate nature of the venue. The focus of Jamie and Kathy were their careers, and neither was willing to sacrifice that (or anything, for that matter) for the other. Instead, they built up defense, and as Kathy sang, “…once the foundation is cracked…”
Today’s performance brought up a different compare and contrast. In this case, we had two productions of the same show: one in a venue (the Pasadena Playhouse) that seats 688 with a moderately large stage. The other venue (REP East) was much smaller: a seating capacity of 81, with a much smaller stage. Given the same quality of actors (which was true in this case–more on that later), which venue worked better. Surprisingly, for “The Last 5 Years”: REP East. Even with prerecorded music and much simpler sets, the closeness of the actors to the audience made the connection much more palpable, and brought out the emotion much more. I think that such small musicals (casts of 2-6) do much much better in the small venues; they get lost in the mid-size venues, and would pointless in the order-of-magnitude larger venues such as the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, the Ahmanson, or the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. I’m very pleased that REP East chose this show.
Of course, casting it right also helps. The REP East did that as well. The role of Jamie was played by Jarod Scott (MySpace); the role of Kathy was played by Jill Kocalis (MySpace). Both were extremely strong singers… and they also got into the parts. You could tell by their performance, for it was believable that they were inhabiting the characters. In fact, I can show you, for REP East has actually put up a promo up on YouTube:
I thought the staging of the production was excellent given the limited size of the performance space (although I wasn’t sure about all the Dali-ish clocks on the set). The volume of the music could have been tweaked down slightly, as at one or two points it was difficult to hear the artist. But that’s something that varies day-to-day and may be seat dependent, so it is hard to balance.
On the technical side, the crew consisted of George Cummings as Director/Musical Orchestration, Kelly Hardy and Katie Mitchell as Stage Managers, Ryan Todd as Costume Designer, Tim Christianson as Resident Lighting Designer, and Steven “Nanook” Burkholder doing Sound Design. Vocal Direction was by Herbert Pabon, Set Design was by Mikee Schwinn and Phillip Peck. Jan Marie Rennels was a Creative Consultant. As always, Ovington Michael Owston was Artistic Director and Mikee Schwinn also served as the Theatre Manager.
As always, we’re looking forward to the next REP East production, which will be “Driving Miss Daisy” This should be extra interesting, as I have a distant familial connection to the Wertham Family in Nashville. “Driving Miss Daisy” runs May 18 through June 16.
As for us? Things are starting to wind down. Next up is “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on Sat Mar 31st at 2pm, followed by “Cuttin Up’” at the Pasadena Playhouse on Sat Apr 7th at 8pm. After that, the next ticketed show is “The Constant Wife” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 6/2 @ 8pm, followed by “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre on 7/15 @ 7:30pm and “Can-Can” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 7/28 at 8:00pm. But I expect to be augmenting this list with tickets for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through Broadway/LA; tickets to “Driving Miss Daisy” at REP East; possibly tickets for “Beehive at Valley Musical Theatre… plus whatever else looks interesting on Goldstar. I must also plug the performance of “The Wizard of Oz and Then Some” on 5/31, 6/1, and 6/3 at Nobel Middle School in Northridge, but more on that in a future post. Lastly, I plan on ordering season tickets for the Ahmanson, as discussed here.