Musicals at Colorado College are often large, long, and showy affairs. The Last Five Years, presented this weekend in Taylor Theater, is more understated. With a cast of just two, The Last Five Years narrows the audience’s focus. Played by Mariah Weaver and Alec Sarche, Cathy and Jamie tell the story of their relationship, starting at opposite poles. Cathy begins at the end, bitterly lamenting their marriage’s destruction while in the next song Jamie is spastically overjoyed at meeting Cathy.

For this production, the cast and crew chose to limit the musical, written by Jason Robert Brown, to only the songs. The lack of traditional scene and dialogue requires a leap by the audience as they must immediately form an emotional connection to characters that take the stage and burst into song without introduction. Even more unusual is that characters appear on the stage alone. Many of the songs become monologues or one-sided conversations. The challenge for the actors is conveying the emotion of the side unheard.

Director Ally Kuhn said, “The Last Five Years shows the same relationship from two very different perspectives, and the characters spend most of their time alone onstage. The hardest part about directing has been making sure that the narrative is clear to the audience without sacrificing its dramatic arch.”

Weaver powers through the songs with a voice that carries anger, hurt, desperation, and happiness in equal measure. Sarché conveys his character’s transitions physically, relying on an expressive face and a confidence on stage, moving fast and assuredly throughout the space.

Sarché notes the similarities he found between Jamie and himself while preparing for his role: “Playing him has not been so much about disappearing into a character as separating myself from him and distilling myself down to my elemental being: what am I that is not what Jamie is? What am I that is exactly what Jamie is? How can I get rid of the former and keep the latter balanced and nuanced without making him, for lack of a better word in English, a big huge dick?”

Fittingly, Weaver as Cathy has a very different perspective: “I think it’s really hard because me and Cathy handle things so differently. Cathy lets things fester and she gets really passive aggressive and she has a really hard time with anyone else doing well and I like to think that I can do ok with other people succeeding but Cathy has a really hard time with it. I think there are a lot of really wonderful things about Cathy, about how much she loves and how much she’s willing to try but Cathy and I, we love in such different ways.”

The set, designed by Maya Jamner, creates a believable image of low income domestic normalcy. The set remains static though the setting of the scenes changes frequently. But the apartment setting, with bare walls and scattered half packed boxes, coincides with the feelings of duality and transition inherent in the play. One could be moving in or moving out. 

The plain walls also serve a practical function, allowing the production’s lighting, designed by senior Elizabeth Lund, to be highlighted. The lighting, alternating between a soft blue and red, plays a vital role in setting the emotional state of each scene. Weaver as Cathy starts in blue but as she moves backwards in time, she becomes lit by red. Sarché as Jamie experiences the reverse and in one beautiful moment, the blue and red each shine on half of the stage, blurring in the middle.

The songs themselves are catchy, comical in some places such as Jamie’s “Shiksa Goddess” and heart-breaking in others such as Cathy’s “Still Hurting”. Pianist Sean Carter performs beautifully as the characters reveal themselves to the audience.

    “My favorite song in The Last Five Years has always been and always will be ‘Nobody Needs to Know.’ It’s an emotionally fraught and distressing seven minutes, which calls for wistfulness, bliss, anger, and depression, sometimes in the same breath. There’s no more satisfying challenge than that song,” said Sarché.

“‘See I’m Smiling’ might be my favorite because it’s got this really nice arc where you’ve got hope, you’ve got all the things that you want and then things happen. And it’s very much a conversation, but only I sing,” said Weaver.

It’s a musical exploring two very flawed people. Audience members searching for a blatant protagonist and antagonist will be disappointed but the ambiguity is what makes the emotions of the piece so wrought.

“I think that everyone can relate to the relationship struggles of The Last Five Years, to wanting so badly for something to work but realizing that it can’t be what you need it to be,” said Kuhn.

Tickets for The Last Five Years are available at the Worner Desk. The musical opened on Thursday, March 3. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 4 and Saturday March 5 in Taylor Theater.

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