Norbert Butz and Lauren Kennedy are the singing marrieds in the world premiere of Jason Robert Brown's intimate new musical, The Last Five Years, opening May 23 at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL.
Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Brown, best known for the Harold Prince-directed Parade, penned the work, including the libretto. Daisy Prince, who helmed Brown's well-received 1995 revue, Songs For a New World, directs the staging for the Chicago-area resident company; rehearsals were in Manhattan prior to the tech in Skokie. Performances continue to June 24. Previews began May 16.
The two-person tuner follows the relationship of a "nice Jewish boy" and an Irish Catholic girl in New York City. During a five year period, they fall in love, marry and their bond loosens into divorce. Tom Murray musical directs.
Butz appeared as Roger in Rent on Broadway, toured as the Emcee in Cabaret and was featured in the recent Off-Broadway staging of Saved. Kennedy's credits include the recent Arlington, VA, staging of The Rhythm Club, Broadway's Side Show and Sunset Boulevard in New York and Los Angeles and tour. 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.
"I find it incredibly close to the bone, especially being a performer myself," observed Northlight artistic director B.J. Jones. "This deals with an actress and a novelist. When one career takes off and the other doesn't, I think that's close to the bone for anyone in this day and age of two-career partnerships. All the while, it's very funny and the structure has a wonderful sort of counterpoint quality; it makes each song more resonant because of where it lies in the journey."
Jewish and Irish musical themes are woven with contemporary pop and Broadway sounds to create a multicultural urban atmosphere. Brown is in residence at Northlight during the run of the staging, and will conduct the six-piece band.
Brown was music director of Dinah Was, which Northlight presented in 1998-99. Subsequently, he accepted Northlight artistic director Jones' offer of the 350-seat Skokie venue for the premiere of a vest-pocket musical. Brown was working on a two-person show for Lincoln Center that the New York non-profit wasn't ready to do, and Brown and Lincoln Center said Northlight could test it. The show turned out to be The Last Five Years, which has some spoken dialog in it, but is mostly sung-through.
The design team is Beowolf Boritt (set and costumes), Chris Binder (lighting) and Rob Milburn, Michael Bodeen and Ray Nardelli (sound).
Northlight Theatre has a $2.1 million annual budget and is the resident producing theatre (using two venues) at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, at 9501 N. Skokie Blvd. in Skokie. The troupe has 9,000 subscribers.
For information, call (847) 673-6300 or try the web site at http://www.northlight.org.
— By Kenneth Jones