In hindsight ... ‘Last Five Years’ recalls relationship’s ups and downs — starting with the end

The Last Five Years” isn’t your typical musical. It’s 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 State’s 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.

“It’s a very intense show, and it’s probably one of the most difficult shows I’ve ever done,” Holmes said. “It only has two people and it’s entirely sung through, so it’s been extremely vocally demanding and extremely emotionally demanding too, but I couldn’t 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 I’ve always been kind of waiting for the pieces to come together and I can’t believe how well it’s working out,” Holmes said, “It’s honestly reminding me why I love acting and why I do what I do.”

Performing “The Last Five Years” in the State Theatre’s 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 we’re performing in a room. It’s a really wonderful experience actually because so often in musical theater you’re told to give more and play to the balcony so that everyone can see what you’re doing. Now it’s such a relief to not have to be worried about that.”

Audiences should be forewarned that “The Last Five Years” isn’t the sunshine and smiles-type of musical.

“They’re going to get tied up in it, it’s not going to be a singing and smiling musical affair. You’re not going to get some glitzy showgirls, you’re going to get some introspection and you’re 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 that’s really what the show is about.”