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Philadelphia Theatre Company – The Last Five Years, a new musical by Jason Robert BrownCaught the final dress rehearsal of this Philadelphia premiere last night. The good news: a terrific cast, great songwriting, well played and performed. The less good news: a peculiar scheme of production (lots of video projections that seemed both too complicated and too simplistic) and a show that, despite the brilliance of many of its individual moments, doesn’t add up to much of anything. Because of its unique dramaturgical construction (she goes backwards in time, he goes forward) and the complex nature of the characters (they’re both lovable and despicable), one reaches the end of the play feeling, well, very ambivalent. Are we supposed to sympathize with Jamie for cheating on his wife just because she’s a shrew and he’s a genius? Compounding the problem, the director doesn’t have much flair for musical staging – numbers stumble to a close without proper “buttons,” the actors seems to wander in and out of each others’ moments in ways that seem often pointless – and the actors remain in the same clothes throughout even though the play spans five years. Well there I go again, being a nitpicker – better to focus on the marvelous singing and acting of the two stars, Nicole Van Giesen and Wayne Wilcox, both of whom transported me into states of rapture at many points during the show. And the songs are consistently inventive, consistently surprising, and often very very honest. Jason Robert Brown is unquestionably the genius folks say he is, and I hope he finds more projects like Parade, where the collaborative process and the demands of the subject matter bring out the best of his talents.

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