It’s been a non-stop week of openings in Sydney – the independent seasons have been fanning their tales out, attracting the industry to come along and check out what the independent artists think the punters need to see – and what they’d want to see. Art wrestles commerce always – and in the independent sector, it’s a fierce battle fought by only the bravest hearts. And I believe that is the perfect lead in to writing about the next installment of The Reginald Season housed by The Seymour Centre. Stories Like These presents The Last Five Years…

It’s not very often that a musical makes it’s way into an independent season – and that is not because all musical theatre practitioners will only work at The Capitol or The Theatre Royal… it’s usually economic. An independent show is usually under a co-op arrangement – and as such the money is tight and the time limited. Usually the factor that prohibits is the availability of musicians willing to work for free/very little AND who are available for a run and usually the demands of a musical are massive – casts and choruses are expensive to all deck out in costume let alone hire a space to rehearse that can fit the car/revolving stage/venetian gondola… BUT here is the exception: Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years.

A chamber musical – a cast of two, a band of five (that change hands between musicians – probably due to availability) in the hands of a fantastic producing team – and I should know – I’ve worked with them both. PJ Gahan is one of the best in the biz (and don’t take my word for it – he’s wrangled the likes of Tim Minchin (and has the tennis table set to prove it) and Nigel Kennedy and countless symphonies) and Luke Rogers who has steadily built a suite of work as producer and director whilst juggling the demands of his role at New Theatre. These guys are the business. They know their stuff. No doubt.

This show is a smart choice. Small cast. Big love story. And perfect for anyone coming out of a relationship and/or falling in love…

Set Designer James Browne has created a black and white play space – a large criss-cross for the performers to show their paths crossing and parting… and echoes the structure of the piece. We start with Cathy saying goodbye to their relationship… followed by Jamie as he falls in love with her. She begins at their end. He begins in their start and in the middle, well, they meet in the middle and make a pledge.

I don’t own a TV… so I have no idea who Rob Mills is – but supposedly he’s a bit of a big deal… and those with TVs and posters of him from TV week on their walls will swoon as Jamie. I do know Marika Aubrey – and although I’ve never worked with her she is stupendously talented. She’s a stunning singer, and extremely magnetic actor and award-winning Cabaret performer – a tender and beautiful Cathy and she can sure sell a song!

The production itself is beautifully produced. The program, the set, the actors are gorgeous everything looks great. It’s a quality show – which is definitely not easy on a budget of free, cheap or borrowed.

There are a few things that don’t sit easy with me – but I think this is a personal taste/preference thing… and that is having actors sing (and act) in accent. It bothers me – I don’t know why, but I guess in the same way that Opera is sung in languages with trills and flourishes, the big-sing musicals are very American in their creation and composition and so the songs may demand that. I’m just not sure if this one needed the American accent? It’s something I am very conscious of – but for some directors they feel the language demands it. I personally disagree – I think our culture demands our own accent. The other is the fact that the set is black and white – which thematically seems a little unfair when diving into the realm of relationship – is it ever black or white, hmmm?

I also wonder about the structure of the piece itself not quite allowing us the spontaneity of real life relationships in which we are wondering how the relationship will play out. It’s a foregone conclusion – and in the end really it’s clear he’s a scoundrel and she’s a bit of a wimp for missing such a scoundrel… which is the worst of all relationship cliches, and ultimately not so interesting or invigorating.

For me, as someone who is both at the end of a relationship and in the early stages of falling in love – this a wonderful night of indulging the romantic and nostalgic parts of myself. And the ride is pleasant, though not so surprising – it ticks all the boxes of a tightly, professionally presented production – and raises the bar even higher for the rest of the artists lined up for the Reginald Season at The Seymour.