Nobody ever goes into a relationship with the worst in mind, but there’s a reason that hindsight is 20/20.
People like to think they’d be cognizant enough to call out red flags from the get-go, but the sheer number of songs about sad, broken people getting into or falling out of love shows that nobody’s really as smart as they think they are. In any case, nobody wants to admit that, in a lot of cases, the cracks with the power to end a coupling were probably there from the beginning.
Jason Robert Brown’s award-winning Off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years tackles just such a scenario; since its debut in 2002, audiences and critics alike have hailed the show for its intimate, unflinching presentation of the death and life of a relationship, as told (sung) from the perspectives of the couple that lived it.
Pinoy theatergoers have always had a special relationship with this material; the Philippines was where the play’s first international edition was staged (back in 2003), and the news that the latest production would be top-billed by Myke Salomon (Mula Sa Buwan) and Gab Pangilinan (Ang Huling El Bimbo) was met with great excitement.
@barefootcollab Thank you to everyone who braved the weather to come support our #L5Y2023 Preview Night! 🤍✨ #philippinetheater #musicaltheatre #musicals #musical #thelastfiveyears #supportphtheater ♬ original sound - Barefoot Theatre Collaborative
The play tells the story of Jamie (Salomon) and Cathy’s (Pangilinan) relationship almost entirely through song, with each recounting events from diametric points in their shared timeline.
While Jamie’s road to becoming a successful writer plays out in largely chronological order, Cathy begins the show mourning their short-lived marriage with the appropriately-titled, Still Hurting. The only time the two timelines converge is near the midpoint when they formally declare their love in The Next Ten Minutes.
As Cathy, Pangilinan balances moments of melancholy with an infectious, effervescent energy in numbers like, I Can Do Better Than That, provides the play with a living, beating heart. That her story is being told in reverse chronological order makes it no less agonizing to witness the vivacious person her character used to be.
On the flip side of the equation, we have Pangilinan’s real-life partner, Salomon, playing Cathy’s estranged husband. While his delivery of faster-paced songs like Shiksa Goddess felt somewhat labored, his performance of the slower, more somber numbers came through in full, heart-rending measure.
As directed by Topper Fabregas (Angels in America, Company), the production makes full use of the venue’s elongated layout, with a central stage bisecting the performance space, and choreography built around lateral movement. At the same time, the minimalist production design by Joey Mendoza (Agnes of God, Company) allows the audience to concentrate on the actors and the emotions being displayed.
The preview night performance yielded a couple of audio hiccups in the opening number, but the emotionality the actors brought to their characters more than made up for any technical difficulties. Pangilinan and Salomon’s real-life chemistry works to their advantage, making it all the more devastating when the play reaches its inevitable denouement. There’s something immediate and visceral about seeing two performers baring their souls on the open stage, and placing them in the middle of the room only adds to the experience.
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Twenty years on, The Last Five Years remains a riveting entry in the pantheon of musical mainstays, having lost none of its ability to destroy an audience, while casting a married couple in the lead roles just adds another layer of heartache. When all is said and done, the lack of ancillary characters or props allows the characters to take center stage, and Pangilinan and Salomon don’t disappoint.
For anyone who’s ever loved and lost, consider this an invitation and a warning: this one’s for you.
A Barefoot Theatre Collaborative production, The Last Five Years is being staged at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Blackbox Theater. Tickets are available via ticket2me.net.