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Theater Review: ‘Last 5 Years’ is small but mighty

Annie Curasi and James Ellis performed Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last 5 Years,” which opened Dec. 2 in the Jane Dibbell Cabaret. A one-act musical originally produced in Chicago in 2001, is a unique story about the failed relationship of the two characters, Jamie and Cathy. / photo by Scott Mirimanian

Brittany Lawrence
Staff Writer

Annie Curasi took an interesting approach to her senior project this fall. Instead of a thesis paper or a research project, Curasi took on a whole production.

Curasi, a senior musical theater major, performed her senior performance thesis “The Last 5 Years,” a musical by Jason Robert-Brown, at 8 p.m. on Dec. 2 in the Jane Dibbell Cabaret.

“I have wanted to do this musical, “The Last 5 Years,” ever since I found out about the project,” Curasi said. “I love the show; Jason Robert-Brown is amazing.”

Although the Cabaret is small, it was a full house in the theater that sits about 45 people. The seats were elevated from the hard wood floor creating the stage.

The musical was first performed in 2001 so it is a fairly new show compared to the classic musicals like “Oliver!” and “The Music Man.”

Curasi shined throughout the performance, not only because she was one half of the cast.

“We practiced three times a week for three hours each day we rehearsed,” Curasi said. “The chronology of my part was hard, the going backwards through the whole story.”

The set for Curasi’s version of the show was simple and only consisted of a few props, which were mainly furniture. The backdrop of the scenery consisted of two walls painted red, connected by a black curtain with a rear projection screen in-between the top of both walls that showed pictures of the background of the location of the characters in the scene.

Instead of changing sceneries, the screen would change images in order to conserve money. The right side of the backdrop featured six pictures.

This changed throughout the musical as the characters aged to show the transitions that the characters were experiencing in their lives. Both characters have a section of wall dedicated to them, and the pictures move accordingly with the time period the characters are experiencing.

The musical consists of only two characters, a couple, Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein. Curasi played Cathy and James Ellis, a ULV alumni and theater veteran of 11 years, played Jamie.

The story was interesting in its way of being told. Wellerstein’s side of the story explains his five year relationship with Hiatt from the day they met until the day they part. On the other side, Hiatt goes through the same five years in reverse, from when he leaves her after they are married to when he says good-bye after their first date.

Only once do the two interact together and that is when their sides of the story intercept at their wedding.

Both of the characters get to show their side of the story. As a year goes backwards on Cathy’s side, a picture from her wall gets moved over to Jamie’s side who has moved forward a year.

“I wanted to do something that was small and powerful,” Curasi said.

The show was well performed, and really showed the intensity of the plot. The actors put the emotions of their characters into the audience.

The story had a sad tone, and the performers did a very good job and making their audience experience that sadness.

“The performance was emotional and powerful, but not just minor emotion,” Samantha Beall, sophomore English major, said. “The ending was beyond perfect with him leaving forever and she ending at the beginning and not knowing what was in store for the next five years.”

The fact that both characters had to act by themselves for the most part is a challenge of its own that they managed to overcome.

“I thought the show was really cute,” Felicia Beardsley, interim associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “They did a terrific job, I think it would be really hard to have to act by yourself, it was just them.”

Brittany Lawrence can be reached at

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