The Last Five Years isnt your typical musical. Its a gritty, uncompromising and stripped-down analysis of a five-year relationship between a rising novelist and a struggling actress. The Attic at the State Theatre is playing host to this domestic anti-bliss in a series of sold-out performances featuring A.J. Holmes as writer Jamie Wellerstein and Penn States Carly Hughes as actress-going-nowhere Cathy Hyatt.
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown and originally produced for the New York stage, The Last Five Years takes a unique approach to its story-telling by having its plot unfold in reverse.
Its a very intense show, and its probably one of the most difficult shows Ive ever done, Holmes said. It only has two people and its entirely sung through, so its been extremely vocally demanding and extremely emotionally demanding too, but I couldnt be happier about it.
An accomplished pianist and member of the Chicago-based musical theater company StarKid Productions, Holmes gained viral fame via his compositions featured in the Internet hit A Very Potter Musical. In The Last Five Years, Holmes tackles a more serious and mature role than he has typically been accustomed to.
This has always been a dream role and Ive always been kind of waiting for the pieces to come together and I cant believe how well its working out, Holmes said, Its honestly reminding me why I love acting and why I do what I do.
Performing The Last Five Years in the State Theatres intimate Attic is perfect for this show, he said.
The venue is so much smaller than I anticipated and that has only been a relief, Holmes said. Everything there plays up to the intimacy. This is the most bare-bones that you can get and our audience is only 65 people and were performing in a room. Its a really wonderful experience actually because so often in musical theater youre told to give more and play to the balcony so that everyone can see what youre doing. Now its such a relief to not have to be worried about that.
Audiences should be forewarned that The Last Five Years isnt the sunshine and smiles-type of musical.
Theyre going to get tied up in it, its not going to be a singing and smiling musical affair. Youre not going to get some glitzy showgirls, youre going to get some introspection and youre probably going to relate to the show, Holmes said. I think that most people have gone through some sort of tumultuous relationship that has left them feeling lost, and thats really what the show is about.