The Last Five Years—The Jason Robert Brown musical announced for and then taken off the Lincoln Center Theater schedule all within the last few months — will open in a commercial production Off-Broadway. Norbert Leo Butz, who originated the male role in the two-hander last summer at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL, told Playbill On-Line Dec. 5 that he will reprise his role in New York. Butz is currently starring on Broadway in Thou Shalt Not, which closes Jan. 6.
Butz also said that former Aida actress Sherie Rene Scott would play opposite him. According to spokespersons at the Barlow-Hartman office, the show begins previews Feb. 12 and opens March 3, 2002 at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
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.
Rehearsals on the production are set to begin mid-January 2002. Daisy Prince, who staged Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World, directs The Last Five Years, which will have 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 an Irish Catholic girl in New York City, over five years and from different points of view. The conceit of The Last Five Years has the woman, Kathleen, an 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. "Everything I write comes from my life," he told PBOL. "But I'm not narcissistic or sadistic enough to make the contents of my marriage a matter of public record, you know what I mean? That wasn't the aim of the piece. I think in writing a show about a couple that fall apart, I was hoping that I'd maybe be able to come to terms with that in my own life. But I wasn't going to come to terms with it by writing something about me."
Asked pointedly if the work was a roman a clef, he said it was not.
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 Last Five Years became one of the top sellers in the 26-year history of the Northlight, a Chicago-area LORT house. Following raves (and a Variety review that was mixed), the show extended one week to July 1. Because of its intimate scale and economical two-person cast, The Last Five Years was thought to be highly producible, with a rosy future in the regional theatre circuit.
For tickets ($20-$60) and information on The Last Five Years at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, call (212) 307-4100 after Dec. 14.
To view Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter interview with Jason Robert Brown from earlier this summer, click here.