Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: The Last Five Years Opens Off-Broadway

News   Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: The Last Five Years Opens Off-Broadway The Last Five Years, the Jason Robert Brown musical that had an acclaimed run in Illinois last year, will officially open at Off-Broadway's Minetta Lane Theatre on March 3, after previews from Feb. 12.
Norbert Leo Butz in The Last Five Years.
Norbert Leo Butz in The Last Five Years. (Photo by Photo by Joan Marcus)

The Last Five Years, the Jason Robert Brown musical that had an acclaimed run in Illinois last year, will officially open at Off-Broadway's Minetta Lane Theatre on March 3, after previews from Feb. 12.

Norbert Leo Butz, who originated the male role in the two-hander last summer at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL, will reprise his role in New York. Aida actress Sherie Rene Scott plays the other half of the musical's quickly dissolving marriage. Opening is March 3 at the Minetta Lane Theatre.

Rehearsals on the production began mid-January 2002. Daisy Prince, who staged Brown's Songs for a New World, directs The Last Five Years, which has sets and costumes by Beowulf Boritt, lighting by Chris Binder and sound by Duncan Edwards.

LCT commissioned the piece but allowed Northlight to test it in a world premiere. The musical charts the rise and fall of a marriage of a "nice Jewish boy" and a girl in New York City, over five years and from different points of view. The conceit of The Last Five Years has the woman, Cathy, a musical theatre actress, beginning her story at the end of the relationship and working her way back, and Jamie, a novelist, starting from the first date and working forward. They sing together only once, in the middle of the play, at their wedding.

It was widely thought that the show was inspired by Brown's own broken marriage. However, Brown, in an interview with Playbill On-Line earlier this year, said the work is not autobiographical. Marty Bell and Arielle Tepper, the new producers of The Last Five Years, grabbed the property after Lincoln Center Theatre backed out of a planned 2002 mounting. The official word was the artist and theatre weren't able to come to an agreement. Both a spokesman for LCT and Brown's lawyer, Mark Sendroff, refused to comment on the exact nature of their disagreement. But the widespread report in the theatre community said that the threat of a lawsuit, possibly brought by his ex-wife, Theresa O'Neill, stood in the way of future stagings of the intimate show. Asked whether the current production signaled that the legal wrangling over the show had been resolved, Sendroff reiterated that he was legally bound not to discuss the matter.

According to the New York Post, the divorce settlement between Brown and O'Neill "bars Brown from writing about certain aspects of their marriage."

The show has reportedly undergone a variety of minor changes during its preview period, some of the tweaks purported to be fueled by legal considerations.

To view Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter interview with Jason Robert Brown from earlier this summer, click here.

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At the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village on Feb. 6, the company and crew of The Last Five Years gave the New York press its first taste of the chamber musical. The emotional two hander's stars, Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott, ran through nearly every song in the score, with director Daisy Prince in the auditorium offering periodic guidance and the always-hands-on Brown himself, unseen backstage, leading the musicians and playing the keyboards.

Butz and Scott were rarely on together on the stage, which featured an ice blue and grey set, vaguely reminiscent of Copenhagen's circular forum, but uprooted and placed on its side.

Among the songs featured in the preview were: "Still Hurting," "Jamie's Song," "See I'm Smiling," "A Part of That," "The Schmuel Song," "The Next Ten Minutes," "A Miracle Would Happen/When You Came Home to Me," "Climbing Uphill," "If I Didn't Believe in You," I Can Do Better Than That," "Nobody Needs to Know," "Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You."

—By Robert Simonson