Cape Town 2020: ❌ March 19 to April 4, 2020, Golden Arrow Studio, Baxter Theatre Centre ❌ The run has been cancelled due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). Refunds from webtickets or donate the money to the artists.
Hopefully this production will be re-scheduled. A huge of amount of work went into this production. Read the interview with Jaco Griessel .
Writer: Jason Robert Brown
Cast: David Ralph Viviers and Zoë McLaughlin
Director: Paul Griffiths
Producer: Tally Ho! Productions– headed up by Jaco Griessel
Set and lighting design: Jaco Griessel and Paul Griffiths
On-stage musicians: Danielle Wynter (violin), Natasha Otero (cello 1), Ariella Caira (cello 2), Graeme Lees (guitar) and C.J. Duckitt (bass guitar)
Piano accompaniment/conductor: Jaco Griessel
❌ The run has been cancelled –Coronavirus (COVID-19). Refunds from https://www.webtickets.co.za/ or donate money to the artists.
Non-linear format – The Last Five Years
The Last Five Years is a one-act drama-comedy, with music. The non-linear narrative pivots around the relationship between struggling actress, Cathy Hiatt and a novelist, Jamie Wellerstein who is on the cusp of success. Why do relationships fall apart? What happened to make this love story unravel? In The Last Five years, Cathy gives her take, from the end point to the first connection. Jamie narrates his story chronologically. We see them intersecting once- in the middle- at their wedding.
Cast of two and six musicians
The Last Five Years is being presented by Tally Ho! Productions, a company headed up by theatre maker entrepreneur, Jaco Griessel. The company was established in April 2019. This production is a mammoth undertaking. There are the rights for Jason Brown’s acclaimed production, plus a cast of two and six musicians.
About the playwright/lyricist/composer
Brown is an American playwright, composer and lyricist. He has won three Tony Awards – for Parade and The Bridges of Madison County. The Last Five Years had its premiere in 2001 at The Northlight Theatre in Chicago and a year later, was staged Off-Broadway. For The Last Five Years, Brown won Drama Desk Awards for Best Music and Best Lyrics. He was also nominated for Outstanding Orchestrations. In 2014, a film of the same name was released, based on the musical. Written and directed by Richard Lagravenese, it stars Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
The performers – The Last Five Years – Cape Town 2020
David Ralph Viviers and Zoë McLaughlin are both Fleur du Cap nominated theatre makers. This production marks Viviers’ debut musical. This is McLaughlin’s debut professional production. She received her FDC nomination while she was a student at the Waterfront Theatre School. This is her first year, treading the professional boards.
Jaco Griessel provides insights into The Last Five Years:
TheCapeRobyn: This is not the first time that The Last Five Years is being staged in South Africa?
Jaco Griessel: The South African premiere of The Last Five Years was produced in 2006 by Big Leaf Productions, it opened in Cape Town and toured to Johannesburg. The production was directed by Paul Griffiths and featured Adam Du Plessis and Heather Knight as Jamie and Cathy. There have been some productions in Johannesburg since then, but I am unfamiliar as to who was involved with them.
TheCapeRobyn: Big Leaf Productions is a company run by Paul Griffiths and he is directing this production at The Baxter?
Jaco Griessel: Paul and I have worked together many times before and a variety of projects and I’ve always had great respect for his work as director of small intimate shows. When I decided to produce The Last Five Years, he was my first choice of director.
TheCapeRobyn: Can you talk about the non-linear structure -he said, she said?
Jaco Griessel: In an interview the author, Jason Robert Brown implied that the idea of the opposing timelines proceeding from different sides of the relationship seemed to have been somewhat of an after thought for him. Afterthought or not, it turned out to not be just a writer’s gimmick but quite a poignant dramatic tool.
Jamie and Cathy are both in unsettled phases of their lives and at different trajectories, they find solace in each another amidst the rapid pace of their lives, but it is also this pressure that exposes the fault lines in the relationship. We all bring baggage to a relationship and if we do not have or create the space to deal with them head-on our relationships suffer for it. By having them tell the story episodically without the other one there, the disconnection between them is highlighted.
TheCapeRobyn: Would you term The Last Five Years a musical or a song cycle?
Jaco Griessel: I think it is a hybrid between the two. A song cycle, in the world of musical theatre at least, is typically a set of self-contained songs without any spoken word to link them but unified by some central concept or theme.
The Last Five Years marries the concept of overarching narrative with this idea of short self-contained vignettes. Each scene/song is a moment in the relationship between Jamie and Cathy. Individual snapshots that form an overarching picture of how the relationship progressed. The events in the one song links with the rest of the songs to form a story arc and leaving a song-out will leave a gap in the narrative.
TheCapeRobyn: Is there dialogue or is the narrative sung through the songs only?
Jaco Griessel: There is some text interspersed during the song to flesh-out the narrative, but true to the style of the piece, never between Jamie and Cathy.
TheCapeRobyn: This is the musical debut for David Viviers- a big departure from his previous work?
Jaco Griessel: David had a gruelling audition process. When I first approached Paul to discuss doing The Last Five Years he had one demand; that we use strong actors that can sing. Paul Griffiths has long been a fan of David’ work as an actor so he invited him to the auditions and we were both very impressed by him. This was followed by an hour singing workshop session with myself and one of South Africa’s top musical theatre vocal coaches Adele Strombeck who vouched for David’s potential to sing this very demanding role with training, even though David has never performed as vocalist before. I highly respect both Paul and Adele’s opinions so with this knowledge I took the plunge and cast David. In retrospect I am so happy with the choice. He brings a depth and truthfulness to the character that is quite extraordinary, that and his voice is absolutely beautiful!
TheCapeRobyn: Set in NY and I take it that you have left it as that – NY setting?
Jaco Griessel: Yes, we have kept the original setting. I do generally think it best to respect the author’s original impulse to write the work. Especially for a non-period piece like The Last Five Years which is very much rooted in the authors experience. The use of language, the characters and how they act in the various situations are completely integral to the world they inhabit and consequently how the story is told, so any transplanting of setting have to be undertaken very carefully.
TheCapeRobyn: Sounds like a lot of Jewish humour – reference to the S-word–a term to denote a non-Jewish woman- very derogatory term to use – regarded as racist in South Africa but okay in NY?
Jaco Griessel: Jason Robert Brown is from a Jewish background himself and the character of Jamie Wellerstein is based on Brown himself. I’ve always opposed the idea of sanitising texts because of some offense that might be taken, as it usually happens at the cost of diluting the truthfulness of a narrative that is every bit as messy and offensive as real life. The song Shiksa Goddess, by including derogatory Yiddish terms, gives insight into both Jamie Wellerstein’s background as well as his state of mind. It reveals both his background as an obedient and slightly coddled Jewish boy from a strict orthodox family, at conflict with wanting to be authentic to the man he himself wants to be. Referring to Cathy as a Shiksa reveals both how much his family would disapprove and that he fully understands just how much they would disapprove and how little he cares. To Jamie, Cathy represents rebellion, excitement and the new.
TheCapeRobyn: You haven’t adapted it all?
Jaco Griessel: The only adaption is that we have not kept the time period in the late 90s. Paul felt that as a time period it was still too close chronologically and undefined from our own and trying to capture the 90s look and feel in the production design would possibly be confusing.
That being said I believe that if one has to adapt the material because, you feel that it will make it more relatable to an audience you have to question the strength of the core narrative, and whether it is one that is worth telling. In theatre a story is a story and great stories always have something of the universal human condition that is relatable across cultural lines. Adaption can very easily result in a dilution of the core narrative or even draw so much attention to itself in its gimmicky nature that is distracts. I will always support an adaption if the production team is especially talented and their vision illuminates different aspects of the work, this is however, in my opinion very rarely what happens, even with the involvement of the original authors.
TheCapeRobyn: What led to this production?
Jaco Griessel: I have always loved the show. As a musician I have always found the songs incredibly well-written and beautifully orchestrated. The story itself is touching and handled with great tenderness and care, so artistically it is appealing to do. Then you add to that, that it is a small show with two actors and six musicians and no need for a complicated sets, costumes and props and you have the perfect show for a start-up theatre company like Tally Ho! Productions.
TheCapeRobyn: Cast, six musicians– the rights must be expensive- plus the cast of two – who is funding this?
Jaco Griessel: Tally Ho! Productions is funding the show. The company is privately owned by a group of theatre loving funders with shareholdings.
TheCapeRobyn: I see that the playwright had a tiff with his ex and he had to change some references?
Jaco Griessel: Jason Robert Brown was threatened with court action by his ex-wife Therese O’Neil as she felt the story line resembled their own failed marriage. Even if Brown denies this, I see Therese’s point. Her heritage, by virtue of her surname, is very obviously Irish. Cathy was initially ‘Kathleen’ and explicitly Irish. Some of the changes that Brown made after he was threatened with the lawsuit was changing Kathleen to Catherine, a suburban American Girl from Long Island, and replacing Jamie’s opening number, a song called ‘Irish Girls’ to Shiksa Goddess. The Irish style is still very present in a lot of Cathy’s music though. The opening number is in a lilting triple time and one of her final songs ‘Climbing uphill’ is a full-blown Irish jig.
TheCapeRobyn: How long is this production?
Jaco Griessel: The show is a seamless one-act running about 80 minutes.
TheCapeRobyn: Anything else to say about the production
Jaco Griessel: I might be biased but I am incredibly proud of this production. The music is beautiful the story is honest, heartfelt, funny and deeply moving. Paul’s direction is world-class and David Viviers and Zoë McLaughlin have done a stellar job of bringing the characters to life. Definitely a show that is not to be missed.
Image credit: Andrew Gorman. Pic supplied.
❌ Cancelled – due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)-Tickets were R100 – R220 from https://www.webtickets.co.za/ Refunds on the site.