Theater review: 'Last Five Years' connects with unfiltered emotions

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 03 2023 02:40 PM

Real-life married couple Myke Salomon and Gab Pangilinan star in 'The Last Five Years.' Yvonne Russell/Barefoot Theatre Collaborative
Real-life married couple Myke Salomon and Gab Pangilinan star in 'The Last Five Years.' Yvonne Russell/Barefoot Theatre Collaborative

Jamie was a writer who just had a book out. Cathy was an aspiring actress. They were happy together and got married. However, for the next five years, circumstances kept them apart most of the time. Jamie was frequently in New York City promoting his book, getting high on his success. Cathy was left in Ohio, making the rounds of auditions, usually getting disappointed with rejections. They eventually broke up.

That last bit was not exactly a spoiler, as this whole show was all about their break-up rather than how they met. It opens with a miserable Cathy finding a break-up note from Jamie and his ring which he left behind, and she was singing "Still Hurting." Sudden shift of mood at the other end of the stage, watching an excited Jamie singing about a non-Jewish girl he was dating, whom he called his "Shiksa Goddess" -- Cathy. 

From there, writer Jason Robert Brown told Cathy's story going backwards in time, while telling Jamie's story going forwards. The show essentially had its two actors singing monologues on their own sides of the stage for the majority of the time. They only got together once in the middle of the show, to sing "The Next Ten Minutes" as a duet, depicting the blissful time in their lives, when Jamie proposed to Cathy and they get married.

Back in 2003, this show had already been staged locally at the RCBC Plaza, starring Philippine theater royalty Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, directed by Bart Guingona. I was able to see the second local staging in 2014 produced by 9 Works, staged also at the RCBC Plaza, starring Joaquin Valdes and Nikki Gil, directed by Robbie Guevara. In 2015, a film version was released, starring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick.

I admit that when I first watched this show in 2014, I found the non-linear telling of the story confusing, and the wordy narrative songs not very much to my liking. This time around, I am now familiar with the story and the unique storytelling style, but those long-winded songs with many obscure ethnic references, I am not exactly a fan yet still. I believe that these are the types of songs that need repeat listenings to be familiarized with.

As the lyrics were key to full appreciation of the songs, It was unfortunate that the sound system at the Power Mac Spotlight Blackbox Theater in the matinee show I watched made it difficult for me to understand the lyrics, especially the first half of the show. I am actually not sure if the sound issue is just with me only or where I was seated. I observed that there were other people reacting to the certain lyrics with laughter in another part of the theater. 

I noted in my 2014 review that it was the actors who elevated the whole show experience for me, and again the same is true this time around. Real-life newly-wed husband and wife Myke Salomon and Gab Pangilinan were in a unique life situation and undeniable chemistry to be able to imbue this material with unfiltered emotions that connect with the audience, those unclear lyrics and unfamiliar references notwithstanding. 

Gab Pangilinan's soaring singing voice is truly sparkling, seemingly effortless as she navigated those high notes and tricky lyrics of songs like "A Summer in Ohio" and the emotional depths of songs like "See I'm Smiling." 

The role of Jamie was a thankless one as he seemed to be the one who failed to make his marriage work. Nevertheless, Myke Salomon's charm still made him sympathetic. For me, his best vocal performance was in that song he sang to his sleeping mistress, "Nobody Needs to Know."

New York City-based set designer Joey Mendoza built a long raised stage running lengthwise when you enter the blackbox theater, with the viewers seated on either side. This stage was divided into three long sections -- two covered with faux grass, and a central aisle where a mechanized platform moved from one end to the other, ferrying the characters where the story required them to be. When you are watching an actor sing on one end, you cannot see the other end, so you will tend to look left and right during the show. 

Kudos to director Topper Fabregas for his sensitive directorial style for telling this heavy depressing story. Musical director Rony Fortich expertly conducted his talented string musicians on violin, cello, bass and guitar, with Farley Asuncion on the piano.


The Barefoot Theater Collaborative's "The Last Five Years" runs until October 15, 2023 at the PMC Spotlight Blackbox Theater, Circuit Makati.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."