Love manages to bring so much depth to life and provide a scope to gauge our growth, our capabilities, our dreams, our wants and needs. For Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein in Jason Robert Brown’s musical “The Last Five Years,” it shows a couple falling in love, conquering their aspirations together yet separately, marrying, and somehow falling apart. But what makes the show a fascinating love story is the timeline in which it’s told. It opens with Cathy singing through their lives together from the end of their marriage backward to the first day they met, as Jamie sings through their love affair from day one forward through the end. They meet in the middle and collide in their storytelling as he proposes.
A debut show for Wilmington’s newest theatre company, Second Star, “The Last Five Years” will open this week at ArtWorks (200 Willard St.). Though a two-person show, Second Star cast four people in the primary roles: LaRaisha Burnette (also a founding member of Second Star) and her real-life fiancé Christian Dionne, as well as Mike Maykish and Sarah Holcomb. The actors will switch nights in which they take the stage to portray Cathy and Jamie.
“So far the choices they’re making and the story being told is so unique each time we rehearse,” theatrical adviser Laura Brogdon-Primavera tells. “It’s beautiful to watch. Coming to one performance won’t mean you’ve experienced ‘The Last Five Years’ we’ve set out to create.”
The show is a feat in minimalism, according to Brogdon-Primavera—with only the basics in set design, lighting, cues, and such. The heavy lifting comes through the chemistry of the two onstage singing through over a dozen songs. The music, led by Amanda Hunter with a five-piece band (two cellists, violinist, bassist and keyboard player), will blend jazz, blues, classical, and Broadway.
“Jason Robert Brown’s style is distinctly his own,” Hunter says. “It’s all difficult. . . . Ask my musicians. It’s a huge challenge—key changes and time signature switches that flow so beautifully, the naked ear would never catch.”
Maykish first heard the show in college and has been singing along to its original soundtrack featuring Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott ever since (the musical was made into a movie in 2014, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan). Both he and Dionne portray Jamie as the Jewish author who meets his dream girl during the start of his career. According to Dionne, they’re sticking to the script with this fella.
“JRB wrote the characters distinctly, and some of those quirks (Jamie being a bit of a flighty dork, Cathy’s confidence in what she wants) are inescapable,” he says.
The couple’s inevitable breakup touches the sensory memory of Dionne, who fell in love with the show as he was enduring a breakup of his own years ago. He says the role he encapsulates is a basic “product of compartmentalization—who I am, now, as a happily engaged man, and someone that never wants to say these things to (or about) the woman I love.”
Dionne calls the show a stalwart of truth, one that resonates and offers up realities often difficult to face, especially when it comes to love. “But the show is just so beautifully composed, it’s hard to resist that heartbreak,” he tells.
Burnette is most excited by the opportunity for audiences to see the relationship’s scope from four different perspectives. “What I think sometimes gets overlooked is that Jamie and Cathy create the space and relationship as they relive their perspectives [of turmoil],” she notes. “But each couple is a different pair of actors. You’ll have to see each night, to truly see the nuances in each pairing.”
Burnette also has been pulling dual roles in the show, as she stepped into the backend as producer. Having seen the musical live several times, as well as the movie, her familiarity with the script has elevated choices in its local premiere. For one, she chose to host it at ArtWorks as a direct mirror to Cathy and Jamie’s lives as creative types (Cathy’s an actress, Jamie a writer).
“It adds a heightened set of stakes to their relationship,” she tells. “It’s often played as simple and sweet (and it is) but there is a fire and creative passion that makes this story all the more heartbreaking and beautiful, and ArtWorks is the perfect atmosphere to support that vision. It’s an art village. It feels like a hidden museum and an artist commune.”
For Second Star Theatre Company’s first show, they’re leaving ticket prices open-ended—a “pay what you can” affair, with a suggested donation of $20 via cash or card, and all proceeds will be shared with the creative team on and offstage. ArtWorks will have 50 to 75 seats, and the show will run Thursday through Saturday, November 3-12, 7:30 p.m. They encourage audiences to hang around afterward to mingle with the cast.
“The singing is so beautiful,” Burnette promises. “I will be there on the nights I’m not performing just to take in the aural landscape and stunning singing of Mike, Sarah and Christian. I’m so lucky to get to spend time with such genuine, kind, and talented people.”