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Love’s beginnings and endings: ‘The Last Five Years’

While the phrase “musical theatre” tends to conjure up images of kick-lines, corny love songs and those distressingly perky “theatre-geek” kids, Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years” does a lot to redeem the art form.

The Thingamajig Theatre production of themusical is currently playing at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

The 2001 musical charts the romance between Jamie Wellerstein, a rising writer, and Catherine Hyatt, a struggling actress, from its giddy beginnings to its painful end five years later.

The twist is that Cathy’s side of the story is told in reverse, starting with a broken heart and moving back to first love, while Jamie’s follows the conventional laws of time and space, only meeting in the middle to duet at their wedding.

In the hands of a lesser dramatist, this could be a gimmick, but Brown uses it to provide the narrative an edge of brutal inevitability that elevates it to the level of tragedy.

What’s perhaps even more impressive is, given the countless love stories swamping our bookstores and cinema screens, it’s rare to find a work that deals honestly with the way most love stories end: suddenly, inexplicably and unequally.

 Other than a few phone calls, there’s little dialogue to speak of, something atypical in your standard book musical. Fortunately, both performers are skilled musicians who handle Brown’s challenging score with incredible talent.

With charisma and confidence to spare, Tim Moore (Jamie) is quite comfortable with his character, pulling off his earlier comic numbers as well as heartbreaking ballads near the show’s end.

As it is, both he and co-star  Rachel Saul Pollack (Cathy) go far beyond the surface of their characters. Pollack’s cabaret background gives her a sparkling comic touch, and she’s got the voice to handle Brown’s stunning music. While her Cathy has a snarky charm that makes her eminently watchable, it’s Pollack’s personality we see that clearly shows us the lingering scars that drive her all too rapidly into a doomed romance.

 These two performers are clearly not working outside their comfort zones, as they explore a full range of emotions over 14 “show-stopping” songs. Moore is heartrendingly good in the central love duet, “The Next Ten Minutes,” whereas Pollack brings down the house with the show’s most conventional showstopper, “A Summer In Ohio.”

 If you’re a musical theatre skeptic, “The Last Five Years” just might be enough to convince you to give it a second chance, if not outright convert you.

Pollack and Moore have the makings of fine performances, and with a director (Laura Moore) who pushed them to explore the characters’ depths, this production stands as a great one and a solid production of a remarkable piece. 

“The Last Five Years” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sept. 30. Regular show tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at www.pagosacenter.org or by calling 731-SHOW.

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