NJT closes season with musical


The New Jewish Theatre is closing its 2008-2009 season with The Last Five Years, written and composed by the Tony Award-winning Jason Robert Brown. It is a musical that is as poignant as it is humorous, with a cast of just two.

The play, which is virtually told all in song, traces the five-year relationship between Jamie and Cathy, in a story that is aptly described as “more bitter than sweet.” It also features two strong talents: April Strelinger as Cathy Hiatt and Jeffrey M. Wright as Jamie Wellerstein, and is skillfully directed by Edward M. Coffield.


In addition, the production is greatly enhanced by a musical ensemble made up of David Horstman on piano, Laura Sexauer on violin and Sara Sitzer on the cello.

The Last Five Years is similar to the familiar show I Do, I Do, which also is a two-person production. But while the earlier production traces a 50-year marriage through its ups and downs with a reaffirmation of “until death do us part,” we know from the start of The Last Five Years that the marriage between the handsome, egotistical writer Jamie and the insecure musical actress Cathy is doomed.

In an interesting theatrical conceit, Jamie retells the relationship from its beginning to its end, while Cathy tells it from the end to its beginning. Their story lines intersect only in the middle of the play, which is sung straight through without an intermission.

Brown, who won a Tony for his previous work Parade, writes lyrics that are generally clever and in this production, they are enhanced by the performers. Some of the words are occasionally overpowered by the musical accompaniment, but for the most part the musicians enhance the overall production.

The device of the couple reviewing their relationship from different time perspectives is interesting, though a bit confusing at times. At the beginning, Cathy has just found a note from her husband indicating that their marriage is ending. She is obviously hurt by the break-up, while Jamie seems to move on without apparent pain. Cathy expresses her sense of lost in “Still Hurting,” a number that resonates emotionally through its lyrics and Strelinger’s ample voice.

Looking back on the start of his relationship with Cathy, Jamie sings “Shiksa Goddess,” yet another celebration of a Jewish man’s obsession with a non-Jewish woman. The song, although sharply written and well delivered, is disturbing as an anachronistic put-down of both Jewish women, who are depicted as “less desirable” than non-Jewish women, and of the non-Jewish woman, who is reduced to an insulting ethnic stereotype. Enough already.

Early on, it is apparent that Jamie, who cannot remain faithful to his wife, and insecure Cathy are not “a match made in heaven.” One of the strengths of The Last Five Years is that there are many relationships like those of Jamie and Cathy that do not retain the luster of the first blush of infatuation.

Told with energy and layered feelings, and performed with gusto by the two actors, The Last Five Years caps off the 12th New Jewish Theatre season with a production that is thought-provoking and entertaining.

‘The Last Five Years’

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. Sundays through June 21

Where: Clayton High School, 2 Mark Twain Circle (off of Maryland)

How Much: $26-$30

More Info: Call 314-442-3257. Tickets can be reserved with a credit card by calling 314-442-3283, or on line at www.newjewishtheatre.org.