URBANA — A challenging production opens tonight at the Station Theatre.
Director Chelsea Collier said the Celebration Company’s “The Last Five Years” is a two-person musical that premiered in Chicago before opening Off-Broadway in 2002.
“It’s the story of a romantic relationship between two artists over the course of five years,” she said. “It follows a unique structure; the two characters alternate songs, each telling their side of the story from a different point in time.”
She said novelist Jamie “tells his side chronologically, from the first time he met Cathy to his final moments in their apartment. Cathy, an aspiring actor, tells her story backward, starting with the day Jamie left and rewinding through the years to the night of their first date.”
It’s a roller coaster.
“The traditional trajectory of a love story — boy meets girl, honeymoon phase, falling out, breakup — is upended, with the audience going from the lows of heartbreak to the highs of infatuation and back again,” Collier said.
The director said you’ll have an intense experience.
“The first time I heard it, on a road trip to Ohio, I was an emotional wreck by the end. I’d gotten completely caught up in the beauty and sadness of this relationship, and was just devastated that it hadn’t worked out. This was despite knowing the outcome of the story from the very first lines of the show,” she said.
She chose to double-cast Celebration Company’s production. Part of that is because composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown’s songs are “incredibly demanding, with each of the leads singing for upwards of 45 minutes. I also knew I’d have to have the talent to justify it,” Collier said.
Mariana Seda and Jenna Kohn portray Cathy, while Bryan Goode and David French play Jamie. The casts will alternate their performances, with Seda and Goode on even-numbered show dates, Kohn and French on odd-numbered days.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with these actors,” Collier said. “They’ve been thoughtful about and deeply invested in their characters, working to tease out the impetus behind a repeated line, a shared phrase, a particularly biting lyric.”
There’s very little spoken text in the show.
“The songs have a conversational quality to them that feels, from an audience perspective, as though Jamie and Cathy are telling their stories to friends, family, intimate confidantes,” she said.
The set for the production is intentionally very minimal, with photos of Jamie and Cathy on the back wall. “They are the story, and putting the focus on the couple rather than a specific location helps it to feel immediate, timely, relatable. They could be a young couple grappling with success and career and love and failure anywhere, at any time. I think that’s what draws so many people to the show: it feels real,” the director said. “Relationships are complicated, joyful, painful experiences, and ‘The Last Five Years’ examines one to the fullest.”