With headliners like Cynthia Erivo and Joshua Henry, it would have been easy to forget that last night’s Town Hall performance of The Last Five Years in concert wasn’t just about two elite performers singing a beloved (and challenging) score. The moment the lights went down September 12, composer Jason Robert Brown reminded the audience in no uncertain terms of the purpose of the evening.
Brown sang his original piece “Song About Your Gun,” a somber melody he wrote in protest to gun violence in America. Accompanied by only himself on piano, the performance brought a gravity to the event that served as a fundraiser for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Then, dressed in a blazer and T-shirt that read “Ban Ban Ban,” original Jamie Wellerstein Norbert Leo Butz walked onstage with his original Last Five Years co-star, Sherie Rene Scott. The crowd erupted as the two joked that it was a night where they could get applause without having to do anything. The duo shared memories of their time at the Minetta Lane Theatre, where the show debuted Off-Broadway in March 2002. The two slipped into a familiarity, as if no time had passed, showing the deep care that still links the two actors.
Butz introduced the President of the Brady Campaign, Dan Gross. The Brady Campaign aims to cut in half the number of gun deaths in the U.S. by 2025. His remarks reminded the eager audience that their presence was also a political statement. “In every movement in … you can see the moment when things started to change,” he said. “That moment is now.”
Without further ado, the lights dimmed and Henry and Erivo stepped on the stage. True to expectations, Erivo’s Cathy was one of strength. While she certainly let her full vocal force fill the theatre, some of the most wonderful moments came in her comedic timing and vocal mix in “A Summer in Ohio.” Of course, her “I Can Do Better Than That” proved why the song has become a signature of her repertoire. Henry’s Jamie hit spot on—fully convincing as the 23-year-old overeager writer and, later, the battle-wounded 28-year-old husband. His performance balanced fragile moments in “If I Didn’t Believe in You” and “Nobody Needs to Know” with vocal fireworks in “Movin’ Too Fast” (he really gave it room and let it sing) and “The Schmuel Song.”
“I just wanted to find two extremely different people,” said Henry of the tune. “The clock was so inspired by Mr. Ben Vereen. Somewhere between Ben Vereen, a drag queen and a Pentacostal preacher. Schmuel—I’m not Jewish—but I got a lot of pointers on the vocal quality of it.”
But Henry’s own full circle moment came when he sang “Movin’ Too Fast.” “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said of the day he first heard Brown sing the song when Henry was a student at the University of Miami. “I can go in and see the auditorium where I was. It just hit me so deeply. That’s probably my favorite moment of the night because you can really let it rip. It was like being in a racecar at 200 miles an hour.”
When the final note of the one-act lingered in the air, both performers and the orchestra (consisting of musicians from the original 2002 and revival 2013 productions) had expelled all they could. Brown, in a rush of tears, spoke to the crowd, “I wasn’t planning on saying anything, but I’m not throwing away my shot.” Brown took the opportunity to thank his supporters and fans before heading to the Town Hall’s mezzanine level for a champagne toast.
“You can spend a lot of time in the arts working on whatever your show is, whatever your passion is, whatever your idea is, whatever the job is and, all of a sudden, this was about something so much larger than all of us,” Brown told Playbill.com, “and we were blessed to be part of that, and I’m so honored that Joshua and Cynthia wanted to be part of that.”
Brown then gathered with family and friends to celebrate at Virgil’s BBQ in Times Square, a contented peace washed over him.
The concert, part of Brown’s residence at SubCulture, raised approximately $200,000 in support of the Brady Campaign. While audiences’ hearts may be fuller from the sound of Brown’s score and the voices that sang it, the hope is that the message resonates more powerfully than any shot ever could.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
Cynthia Erivo sings “Still Hurting”
Joshua Henry sings “Movin’ Too Fast”