Segue Productions
Star Theatres
Until 26 Aug 2017

Review by Chris Eaton

Kudos to the newly launched Segue Productions for choosing the “The Last Five Years” as their inaugural theatrical treat. Penned by Jason Robert Brown, there are moments of the magic that the director Ben Stefanoff (a founding member of Segue) sought to create; however, they are fleeting as Segue’s production unfortunately falls well short of its aim.

Perhaps it is a case of hearts overruling heads for the producers (Ben and Kristin Stefanoff) but they made a grievous error in tasking Ben Stefanoff with double duty not only as the director but the musical director as well. Mr Stefanoff is more than up to the challenge of leading the fine orchestra (more later) whilst handling the brilliantly testing score on the piano. However, unless a rehearsal pianist went uncredited in the program his eyes were more (understandably) focused on the music then the telling of the story and it shows.

The story is relatively simple (Spoiler alert!), Jamie (Ben Todd) a lauded new voice in the literary world meets Cathy (Kristin Stefanoff) a struggling Broadway actor, they fall in love, marry and divorce in the space of five years. What is different however is that Jamie and Cathy begin telling the story at opposite ends of their relationship: Jamie at the heady, love struck beginning and Cathy at the solemn ending. Throughout the show the two traverse their relationship (meeting in the middle at their wedding) ending with Cathy at the start and Jamie at the end. It is a complex but not unique story device, and it does bear its challenges and opportunities.

Stefanoff’s direction lacks consistency in dealing with these segments. At times Cathy and Jamie are engaging with one another, though it jars the scene as it results in one performer miming (“See I’m Smiling”). Or either one of the characters is present in the song of the other but vacant in contribution (“If I Didn’t Believe In You” & “I Can Do Better Than That”). A consistent decision in how each character would be included or not would likely have assisted those unfamiliar with the story.

A confusing decision was the presence of a third person in some scenes, Roxie Giovannucci playing Elise, Jamie’s editor and partner in his infidelity and as well as a buxom waitress. Giovannucci’s inclusion was unnecessary, merely existing as a vessel for Jamie’s desires (“A Miracle Would Happen”), when Todd’s comic acting would have sufficed. It also didn’t add anything to Jamie’s post coital adultery monologue “Nobody Needs to Know”. If she is included, then why not ‘Richard’ in “A Summer in Ohio”?

Performing either Cathy or Jamie is an enormous task. In the canon of musical theatre it is a struggle to consider more demanding roles. There is the need for vocal versatility, stamina as well as serious acting chops to do it justice and any serious musical theatre performer would give pause before signing up. Thus both Stefanoff and Todd should be genuinely commended.

Todd has a warm, strident voice and whilst his early high notes were a sensation, the same effort wasn’t given to his lower register and by the end of the show he sounded vocally exhausted. In general Todd seems miscast, he lacks something necessary to make him believable as Cathy’s ‘something right’. In the seminal “The Schmuel Song” his performance was erratic which didn’t help this cause and absent direction saw his “If I Didn’t Believe In You” as downright menacing not as an aching, bitter appeal. Todd’s “Nobody Needs to Know” seemed apathetic, rather than the suffocating realisation and attempted justification of infidelity that it should be.

Stefanoff fared better than her counterpart. Her voice is versatile, impressive in its length and breadth and simply beautiful to listen to. Arguably her voice lacked fortitude when a song needed a brassy belt but her “Summer In Ohio” was the standout number of the show. She too eventually showed signs of vocal tiredness but much later than Todd. Despite genuine attempts from both performers the chemistry and believability of Todd and Stefanoff as a couple is lacking. Almost in contradiction to this though was their duet “The Next 10 Minutes” which was one of the sublime moments of the show.

As said the orchestra was excellent particularly the string section of Verity Addams on Violin, Hamish Netting and Louisa Giacomini on Cello. Dylan Bilske and Louis Cann on Guitar and Bass round out a fine sounding orchestra.

I echo the kudos to Segue for providing exposure to a lesser seen work and I look forward to their next effort, and will hopefully see that they separate the director from the musical director next time.