You may have heard of destination weddings. Well, how about a destination theater. One is certainly not going to drive by the Rice Auditorium (built in 1936) located on the grounds of Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville and say "Oh, let's go to the theater!". This is the new location of the Heritage Players and they are presenting a terrific production of Jason Robert Brown's award-winning musical, The Last Five Years. In fact, the musical is a benefit to the Spring Grove Patient Fund and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That is reason enough to go.
Located just a short distance off the Baltimore Beltway, one must travel over some speed bumps on Wade Avenue and follow the signs through the grounds of the hospital until you come to "NIRVANA", an oasis of talented actors and musicians working their butts off to entertain you in the confines of the Rice Auditorium. In the thankfully air-conditioned space, tables are set up with folding chairs, with a pay-what-you-can refreshment center. This is their first production there that literally uses the floor of the auditorium in front of the stage where a couch is planted. The actors move about in front of the couch so you really get up close and personal.
The Last Five Years is an ambitious endeavor for any theatrical troupe. Brown has a reputation for complex music and the show has an intricate score.. His first musical, Songs for a New World is a favorite of many theater aficionados. At the young age of 28, he won a Tony Award for his score for Parade. I was fortunate to see the original Off-Broadway cast of The Last Five Years a decade ago that starred Norbert Leo Butz and Sherrie Rene Scott. Not only did Everyman Theatre Artistic Director present the musical in 2005, he brought in the composer and Lauren Kennedy for a one-night show!
How good is The Last Five Years? TIME magazine named it to its list of Top Ten Musicals in 2001 and remember, it wasn't even on Broadway.
When I read that the Heritage Players would be presenting it, I knew I had to see it and I was not disappointed.
This two character sung-through show is given a superb presentation under the skillful direction of Wendy Meetze who has assembled an extremely talented cast composed of Brett Hurt (Cathy) and Stephen Deininger (Jaime). Hurt and Deininger have great voices, have the requisite comedic timing to make the musical work, but they also possess the emotional power that makes the story about two people who fall in love, get married, and finally separate, work. They sing flawlessly. You will laugh at Brown's hysterical lyrics and you may cry as well. I must admit, whenever I listen to the incredible CD (which I highly recommend), my eyes will get misty.
The program gives a helpful timeline since the show starts with Cathy singing about her break-up with Jaime and she works backwards in time. Jaime begins his part at the beginning of their relationship and ends with the dissolution of the relationship. Both Hurt and Deininger have great stage presence and infuse their roles with passion. There is only one time the two meet and it's magical when Jaime proposes, they kiss, get married, and then go their separate ways.
Cathy 's story surrounds her frustration with becoming an actress. When Hurt sings "A Summer in Ohio" playing summer stock, she reminisces about her summer "with a gay midget named Karl Playing Tevye and Porgy." She brings her comedic style to the fore when she sings what's it like at an audition "Climbing Uphill". You will be humming "Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You" when you leave. Yes, there's music to hum to!
The role of Jaime concerns his meteoric rise as a writer. Deininger gets a chance to shine with his rendition of "Shiksa Goddess" and especially in "The Next Ten Minutes". He's very impressive.
This show cannot be done without a superb pianist and Brant D. Challacombe fits the bill. Robin Trenner conducts and plays the Synthesizer, Chris Sisson plays the lovely guitar, but I'll always remember 13 year old Teddy Hersey on the bass, not the bass guitar, the bass which is much taller than Hersey. He told me this was his first musical he's ever been involved in and I couldn't help watching him throughout the 80 minute intermission-less show. He has a great future ahead of him. Kudos to the pit and thank goodness for those wonderful strings.