Jason Robert Brown's one-act song cycle The Last 5 Years -- which earned an off-Broadway production that opened at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York's Greenwich Village on March 3, 2002 -- is a two-character pocket musical about the relationship between a successful young writer and an aspiring actress. Brown adopts a particularly complex structure to tell this contemporary New York City love story; Jamie (Norbert Leo Butz) presents his version in chronological order, while Catherine (Sherie René Scott) moves backward in time. Thus, the show begins with Catherine's "Still Hurting," about her pain from the breakup of her five-year marriage to Jamie, and the second song is Jamie's "Shiksa Goddess," in which this young Jew exults in having met Catherine, whose chief attribute for him is that she isn't Jewish. And so back and forth it goes: In "See I'm Smiling," the third song, Catherine details the reasons why the marriage is falling apart, then in the fourth song, "Moving Too Fast," Jamie describes his rapidly advancing writing career. The odd structure serves to add interest to what otherwise is a fairly clichéd story line of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl. But it isn't what makes the work important. The real value of The Last 5 Years lies in the writing. Brown's songs are beautifully written -- melodic, engaging, and full of witty, literate lyrics that comment on contemporary life. He has a good ear for vernacular speech, which may make his words sound dated eventually, but makes them sound like ordinary speech circa 2002, even as they rhyme and fit the music well. The conflict between love and career is one that will be familiar to anyone in early 21st century America, and in Butz and Scott, Brown has found two excellent actor-singers to express it.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann