Musical theatre is at its best when dealing with inspiring, upbeat emotions.
The first offering from the newly formed Last Tapes company is a crisply staged piece of musical theatre that dissects the meltdown of a five-year love affair.
Although it is closer to a song cycle than a fully fledged musical the show employs a sophisticated narrative structure that alternates between the male and female perspective and cleverly inverts the timeline of the two protagonists.
Cathy's story opens amid the wreckage of broken marriage and moves back to the time when the affair began in a swirl of youthful passion while her partner Jamie begins his story in the giddy intoxication of first love and moves forward through the compromises and complaints that lead inexorably towards a painful separation.
Highly regarded American composer Jason Robert Brown draws on jazz and blues traditions in songs that use ironic conversational lyrics to undercut the lush melodies and complex rhythms of his score. While constantly referencing the elaborate set pieces of Broadway musicals the show distills down to essence of the form and musical director Robin Kelly achieves a wonderfully intimate presentation with two talented singers and a lively three piece band.
But by pushing the boundaries The Last Five Years demonstrates that musical theatre is at its best when dealing with inspiring, upbeat emotions. The contours of a failed relationship present an awkward terrain for a genre that depends on rhyming couplets and the gloomy subject matter makes it difficult to engage with the characters.
Cherie Moore playing Cathy has a particularly daunting job making the audience feel much sympathy for a frustrated out-of-work actress and whining stay-at-home wife. But she displays impressive vocal technique and provides a comic highlight in one scene.
Tyran Park has a more optimistic role as a successful young writer and he delivers a winning performance - most notably in the magnificent Schmuel Song which captures the uplifting spirit of shows such as Fiddler on the Roof.
The Last Five Years is on at the Herald Theatre until March 17.By Paul Simei-Barton