Theater Review- Howard Steven Frydman
It’s another op’nin’ of another show – nope it’s not Philly, Boston or Baltimo’ It’s Norwalk!- yet it’s another chance for stage folks, family, friends and indeed critics to embrace, air-kiss, and “Say Hello”! No- we are not here to see a production of “Kiss Me Kate” – (that was last year at the Hartford Stage where we met the enchanting and “oh-so talented” Anastasia Barzee as “Kate”- by the way Miss A. and I share the same birthday – April 24th) – we are here for the VIP/Red Carpet media night premiere of “The Last 5 Years” at the Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk Connecticut- let me tell ya ALL about it!!
For those who read the first part of this two -part review- (the first part was my review
of my pre-show dining choice- “RomaNacci” Pizza Bar of Norwalk- highly enjoyable!) In fact it was Kevin Connors, Executive Artistic Director of the MTC, who had “directed” this “Norwalk Newbee” to my “Sound of Connecticut ” pre-show dinner destination. A delicious amuse-bouche, my starter course- which now lends itself to our main entrée- an after dinner musical showcase of “The Last Five Years”. A truly VIP red carpet evening of artistry and showmanship. Yes- this is a beginning, a new start not only for this current production here at the MTC-but also for “Yours Truly” – meaning me! I am truly honored to now be associated with the MTC and the opportunity to introduce you to their various musical productions.
The MTC, now in its 29th season, producing award-winning professional theatre, seats 110 in a three-tier, stadium-style, up-close and personal theater in the round. I was proud to see that one portion of the MTC’s newly designed lobby is home to a wall filled with awards and accolades especially from the Connecticut Critics Circle, in which I am a proud new member.
One tier up sits I as lights dim, alas no curtain, a live band preps, and a journey begins as this “au courant” romance/comedy/tear-jerker is set upon the main stage. Written by Jason Robert Brown, and currently directed by MTC’s Kevin Connors, – “The Last Five Years” had its premiered at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre in 2001, and a film version in 2014 starred Anna (Pitch Perfect) Kendrick.
Told in an innovative fashion- with only two large set pieces, audience members are part and parcel (sometimes only inches away from our actors-) learning of the five year orbit of encounter, romance, marriage and split of “struggling” actress Cathy ( Jennifer Malenke) and novelist Jamie (Nicolas Dromand). In a most original approach to chronicling their upward/downward romance – each character tells their account in diverse chronological order- one begins the story at the end of the marriage while the other jubilantly at the beginning with our two actors never actually having any real interaction and it all plays out as a musical!!
At this point in my review- I have a choice to either discuss the actors or the music- hmmm?? Well Let’s discuss our young actors- only two Actors! I can clearly tell this is a joy of a production for both our young leads-a dream assignment they will long remember. What a showcase of these two talented souls!! With only two roles you might like one character or the other- here you enjoy them equally- two rising “Stars” ascending here at the MTC. Nicholas Dromard is a singular energetic sensation, he reminds me of Kevin Bacon ala “Footloose” as he jumps over sets while belting out J.R.B’s lyrics. Miss Malenke is a delight -her vocals clear and precise- while having the more difficult of the two roles in taking us from callus diva to that of the starving ingenue.
Ok- let me say this from the get-go- writer and composer Jason Robert Brown is not a Cole Porter nor a Gilbert and Sullivan- the songs- “Oy” the songs are mostly un-memorable with a mish-mash of styles. For those who have most recently seen the current broadcast production of “Something Rotten” where Nostradamus is talking about musicals and in describing their various types states, “all the dialogue is Song – in a very dramatic fashion”- me thinks he had this particular musical in mind. Nicholas Dromand as Jamie does have the two most outstanding of the numerous numbers, “Shiksa Goddess” and “The Schmuel Song” – but none of the tunes are truly catchy and are soon forgotten- at least by me! I do come from the old-school- I want memorable songs in musicals-they are one of the reasons we enjoy them. Which is not to say “The Last Five Years” is not enjoyable- hardly at all- it is! It has the distinct ability to evoke emotion, initially in Jamie’s and Cathy’s courtship, on to romance and then in their separation. I do take note of several audience members at various tiers reaching for a tissue or blotting away a tear at the conclusion of the production. So you may not go home whistling “Shiksa Goddess” but this production is as sentimental as they come – as you relive “The Last Five Years”.
The MTC is indeed a tasty treat of musical theater and I know, once you’ve tried it you will be hard pressed not to come back for more of this tantalizing artistry found here in the City of Norwalk Connecticut. The MTC MainStage is located at 509 Westport Avenue in Norwalk, CT. For tickets call Reservations at 203-454-3883 or info at http://www.musictheatreofct.com. The upcoming MTC MainStage 30th Anniversary season will include, Gypsy, Deathtrap, It’s A Wonderful Life, I’ll Eat You a Last, and End of the Rainbow.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com