Theatre: The Last Five Years

The full, two-membered cast in the only moment they sing together.

Give me a day, Jamie.
Bring back the lies,
Hang them back on the wall -
Maybe I'd see
How you could be
So certain that we
Had no chance at all ...
Cathy Hiatt, "Still Hurting."

No matter how I tried,
All I could do was love you
And let you go....
Jamie Wellerstein, "Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You."

A one-act, two-person musical by Jason Robert Brown (the Tony-winning composer behind Parade and, more lately, Thirteen), The Last Five Years tells the story of an ordinary couple as they fall in - and out of - love, inspired by Brown's own failed first marriage. Jamie Wellerstein, a successful Jewish novelist, and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling Irish-Catholic actress, become rapidly involved with each other and get married, but their own personal demons inevitably drive them apart.

What's unique about the show is its structure. The score consists of alternating solos; Cathy or Jamie occupy the stage separately, sometimes singing to each other and sometimes to friends and family. Furthermore, there is Anachronic Order involved: the introspective Cathy tells the story Back to Front, starting after Jamie has left her and moving towards their first date; the reckless Jamie starts at the beginning and moves forwards towards the divorce. The timelines cross just once: at the exact halfway mark of the show, on Jamie and Cathy's Wedding Day. The show's structure accents its characters, whose careers are moving in very different directions and who, despite their love, are fundamentally at odds with each other.

The score's wit and emotional maturity has been favourably compared to Stephen Sondheim, whilst Brown's music draws on a wide range of styles that include rock 'n' roll, latin, contemporary pop and Jerome Kern, yet still with a degree of theatrical complexity.

Now a movie starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan! Trailer!

This work provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Jamie starts his affair whilst Cathy is off touring in Ohio.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Explored, rather honestly, by Jamie in "A Miracle Would Happen".
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Averted; the plot is an original one, although inspired by Jason Robert Brown's failed marriage to his first wife.
  • Alter Kocker: Schmuel. Justified in that his story is clearly set in The Old Country (there's no actual town of Klimovich, but it's a Russian surname, while the cities Minsk of Belarus and Odessa of Ukraine are also mentioned).
  • Anachronic Order: As stated above, Cathy's scenes start in the present and each one moves further back in time.
  • Audience Monologue: Although extremely common in musical theatre, here it's consciously avoided; all the songs are addressed to a specific character, though that character is played by anyone.
  • Breakup Song: Really the entire thing is a Breakup Musical, but the focal post-breakup numbers are the opening and closing songs: Cathy's "Still Hurting" and Jamie's "I Could Never Rescue You" (which, for maximum Tear Jerker status, is combined with Cathy's chronologically earliest, falling-in-love tune, "Goodbye Until Tomorrow").
  • BSOD Song: Jamie's "Nobody Needs To Know" is noticeably bleaker than anything that's come before, and seems to mark the point at which Jamie gives up on his marriage.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Cathy exhibits signs of this, as she is possessive of Jamie and suspicious of his female fans and publisher long before he actually has an affair. In fact, in "Nobody Needs To Know", Jamie even cites her behaviour as what drives him to have an affair in the first place:
    All that I ask for is one little corner,
    One private room at the back of my heart.
    Tell her I found one, she sends out battalions
    To claim it and blow it apart.
  • Counterpoint Duet: The end of "Goodbye Until Tomorrow / I Could Never Rescue You".
  • Cut Song: At least two that we know of:
    • Cathy's second song was originally "What's Wrong With Him?", a comedy song with Cathy on the couch, singing to her psychologist. Apparently the joke outstayed its welcome and it was replaced with "See I'm Smiling".
    • In the original Chicago production, Jamie's first song was "I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You", a more nervy first-date number. That song in particular was the subject of an injunction by Brown's ex-wife, with whom Brown had an agreement that he wouldn't write about their marriage; several details in the show were changed to mollify her, and this song was worked into "Shiksa Goddess".
  • Dark Reprise: Several, including:
    • Jamie's "I could be in love with someone like you" theme, originally addressed to Cathy, is later (and miserably) addressed to his mistress, Elise.
    • Cathy's "You, and you, and nothing but you" theme, originally a celebration of her love for Jamie, later becomes an accusation of his selfishness. (Technically a pre-prise, since Cathy is moving backwards in time and the reprise comes first...)
    • Most damningly, the haunting, romantic waltz theme that plays throughout the show - and is even used as Jamie and Cathy's wedding dance - turns out to be "I Could Never Rescue You", Jamie's final farewell to his marriage.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both of the leads, but especially Jamie.
  • Distant Duet: Sort of. In the finale, "Goodbye Until Tomorrow / I Could Never Rescue You", Jamie and Cathy are separated by time; however, they don't exactly sing the same song so much as two songs that overlap each other.
  • Downer Ending: Apart from the obvious—the breakdown of their marriage—in the end, Cathy is still trapped in the summer stock hell that is Ohio, and it's possible that Jamie's meteoric streak is waning.
  • Drowning Our Romantic Sorrows: "A Miracle Would Happen" takes place in a bar, where Jamie is complaining to his best friend, Rob, about the struggles of married life.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Often used to maintain dramatic momentum.
  • Final Love Duet: Sort of (see Distant Duet, above). For Cathy it's a love song; for Jamie, it's an out-of-love song.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The show starts with Cathy's line "Jamie is over and Jamie is gone".
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Jamie is a Winkie prince, also once a has-been rockstar and that guy from Dan in Real Life. Cathy is an evil octopus, a heart-broken pharaoh/statue and was once a bisexual performance artist. Oh, and both were in the Next to Normal workshop "Feeling Electric" as Dan and Diana. They were playing a married couple. Again. With none other than Anthony Rapp as their psychiatrist. Also, both were in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, though they get more shared stage time there.
  • "I Am" Song: For Cathy, it's "Climbing Uphill"; for Jamie, it's "Moving Too Fast". Both songs are about their careers, but are also indicative of their general approach to life (and hence the direction we see them moving through time).
  • "I Want" Song:
    • In "Shiksa Goddess", Jamie proclaims that what he wants more than anything is a girlfriend who isn't Jewish.
    • In "I Can Do Better Than That", Cathy wants to escape the suburban fate of her school friends, but still wants to find true love, too.
  • I Will Wait for You: Cathy has a knowingly reflexive audition song to this effect, "When You Come Home To Me".
  • Kick the Dog: In the movie, Jamie's line, "I will not fail so you can be comfortable, I will not lose because you cannot win" comes off as this, judging by how obviously hurt Cathy is by that lines in particular.
  • Long Distance Relationship: With Cathy touring in summer stock and Jamie out schmoozing the publishing set, this becomes a major factor in the couple's break-up.
  • Love Hurts
  • Love Martyr: Cathy.
  • Love Triangle: Jamie, Cathy and Jamie's mistress, Elise.
  • Minimalist Cast
  • Musicalis Interruptus: When Cathy launches into one more reprise of "When You Come Home to Me" for another audition, Jamie can't take it anymore and has to cut her off before she finishes the first line. Decidedly not Played for Laughs.
  • Never My Fault: Both Jamie and Cathy blame the other for their marriage problems. Cathy blames Jamie's selfishness and his being a little too willing to lap up the attention young women give him. Jamie blames Cathy's jealousy and bitterness that she's not as successful. Neither are exactly wrong, and which was the cause and which was the effect is anybody's guess.
  • Pep Talk Song: "The Schmuel Song", big time. It doesn't appear to be that way at first, but the story's moral is that when opportunity comes knocking, go for it, even if it seems too good to be true — you'll never know unless you try. The final verse is a direct address from Jamie to Cathy, encouraging her that she can make it as an actress.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The dress of Schmuel's dreams is definitely this, though we can only imagine it. His hope was to sew "a dress to fire the mad desire of girls from here to Minsk", and he obviously succeeds, considering that the girl whom he brings it to marries him the very next day. (And since she wears it on the altar, that also makes this a Fairytale Wedding Dress.)
  • Sanity Slippage Song: A funny one for Cathy, with her crazy inner-monologue version of "When You Come Home To Me"; also darker ones for Cathy ("See I'm Smiling") and Jamie ("Nobody Needs To Know") as they each face the breakdown of their marriage.
  • Setting Update: The 2014 film changes a few lyrics to make it clear that the show is set in the 2010s instead — for example, Cathy sings "well-placed tattoos" instead of "looked like Tom Cruise" to describe an attractive guy and "these are the people who cast Russell Crowe in a musical" as opposed to "Linda Blair" to describe her frustrations with the theater industry.
  • Shiksa Goddess: A whole song by this title!
  • Shout-Out: Cathy's line "just keep rolling along" and Jamie's line "I keep rolling on" may be a shout-out to another anachronic musical, Stephen Sondheim's notorious Merrily We Roll Along.
  • The Something Song: "The Schmuel Song". (Strange when you consider that it could just as easily have been called "The Story of Schmuel", in accordance with the actual tale's name.)
  • Somewhere Song: Given a passing nod in Jamie's "A Miracle Would Happen", in which he imagines a world with no other distractions (particularly female ones) where he could concentrate on his marriage with Cathy.
  • Time Travel: Schmuel's talking clock winds time backward as he sews the dress, subjecting the old tailor to forty-one years' worth of Merlin Sickness in a single night.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: Played straight a couple of times—several key changes in a row towards the end of "Movin' Too Fast," the finale "Goodbye Until Tomorrow"—but subverted in "Nobody Needs To Know," which is in A-flat for its entirety up until the last six measures, when it modulates down a half-step into G major.
  • Unwanted Harem: In "A Miracle Would Happen" Jamie laments that, no sooner is he married, his literary success suddenly makes him a huge hit with lots of co-ed undergrads.
    • As time passes, it becomes clear that its not the harem thats unwanted, but his wifes disapproval.
  • Wedding Day: The moving "The Next Ten Minutes".
  • When She Smiles: Gender Flipped in "A Part of That."
  • Write Who You Know: to the point that Brown's ex-wife sued him. Tropes Are Not Good, Jason!
  • Your Cheating Heart: In "Nobody Needs to Know."