ON THE RECORD: Laura Benanti at 54 Below and the 2013 Revival of The Last Five Years

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29 Sep 2013

Betsy Wolfe
Photo by Joan Marcus

While tied up with the lawyers, The Last Five Years missed its scheduled production at Lincoln Center Theater — publicly so, with the entire matter spread across the newspapers. It was finally agreed that Brown would remove identifying traces; the heroine, for example, became a "Shiksa Goddess" rather than an Irish colleen. The show finally surfaced Off-Broadway in a commercial production. Butz was joined by Sherie Rene Scott, recently of Aida; Kennedy was by this point playing Nellie Forbush in Trevor Nunn's West End production of South Pacific. The Last Five Years opened at the Minetta Lane March 3, 2002.

Despite a favorable reception, this two-character musical about a bitter divorce proved a hard sell and closed after only 73 performances. The show's reputation, however, was cemented by the original cast album. This was the initial release of the Ghostlight label, founded — not coincidentally — by Scott with her husband, Kurt Deutsch.

Fast forward a decade. Second Stage produced a revival of The Last Five Years, directed this time by composer Brown himself, which opened March 7, 2013. The show again received a favorable reception and ran for two months. Ghostlight, as before, has issued an original cast album, and it's quite good. Betsy Wolfe, who had given an impressive performance Beth in the 2012 Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along, was very good at Second Stage and remains so on CD. Adam Kantor comes across better on the CD than on stage, for me at least. After several hearings, I have become quite fond of this recording.

However, there is an issue that need be addressed. Namely, the original 2002 cast album. How can Kantor and Wolfe, or anyone, I suppose, possibly compare to the likes of Butz and Scott as they were all-but-bursting into full stardom? The 2002 album sounds like a bright new firecracker, set off by two explosive charges. The new album sounds like an excellent revival. See the problem?

So let us say that the new The Last Five Years is highly recommended to fans of the production, and to fans of the show who wish for a supplementary recording of the score. If you are looking for your first recording of the score, though, I don't see how I can counsel you to overlook Butz and Scott. (The folks at Ghostlight, i.e. Scott and her husband, presumably can't be surprised by this viewpoint.) Let me say, though, that if you don't already know Brown's The Last Five Years, you should certainly go to the Ghostlight website and buy one of 'em.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as “The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations,” “Second Act Trouble,” the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the “Opening Night on Broadway” books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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