REVIEW: 'The Last Five Years' a great way to reopen theatre

Trish Morgan
For the News Tribune
Savannah Tagliaferro and Matt Rothenburg star in Cumberland Theatre’s production of “The Last Five Years.”

It's so hard to put into words the excitement of once again sitting in a theatre after a year of empty, darkened stages - watching actors tell a story from two points of view.

"The Last Five Years" is a song-cycle musical by Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Browne that bends time and points of view to tell the story of two New Yorkers in their 20s who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The show’s unconventional structure consists of Cathy, the woman, telling her story backwards while Jamie, the man, tells his story chronologically.

The Cumberland Theatre version stars local singer and actor Savannah Tagliaferro as Cathy.The role of Jamie is played by newcomer Matt Rothenberg, who currently resides in Orlando, Florida. Tagliaferro is a veteran to the CT stage, and Rothenberg is a graduate of the musical theatre program at Shepherd University with a vast background in theatre, as well.

When there are just two actors in a play, chemistry plays a big part in bringing the audience into the story. We go to the theatre to feel, to spend a couple of hours in another time and place, and we hope that vicarious experience makes a lasting imprint. There was no disappointment here.

Tagliaferro was elated to earn this coveted dream role of a lifetime. Certainly she had expectations, and she wanted to measure up to the director's high standards. By the way, this director is quite famous far and wide for the standards she sets for her productions.

Tagliaferro opens the show - ripping your heart in two right from the start with one of the best songs in the production, "Still Hurting.” This writer knew immediately that there was a tidal wave of emotion to come. You had me at "hurting,” Savannah. Brilliant, haunting. Your perspective as you wove your story took me back to long ago when my love broke my heart - leaving me in shambles. Your performance touched me deeply. How you commanded the stage in your best role yet! Your hard work paid off; you measured up, indeed.

Then, there's Jamie Wallerstein - the love of Cathy's life - played by Rothenburg with such a wide range of emotion. His character starts at the beginning of the couple's story, when their relationship is a shiny, new penny. Then, his career takes off as a debut writer, and soon Cathy starts to disappear in his shadow of success.

Rothenberg is a marvelous storyteller. He captures the best, and the saddest parts of life through the way he spins the tale. As the show went on, his performance became powerful, bold, truthful. You were able to carry your own star from beginning to end, Matt. You were believable, and you made this writer so sad that you were so caught up in your own success, your Cathy became collateral damage.

How many of us can identify with that pain?

The production team for "The Last Five Years" is

director – Kimberli Rowley; music director – Chris McCabe; set and lighting designer – Rhett Wolford; costume designer – Jennifer Clark; stage manager – Becca Parsons; assistant stage manager – Bella McConnell; deck crew – Hayden Kline, Anthony Tagliaferro; photography – Lisa Wolford of Wolford Photography. Orchestra: piano – Chris McCabe; cello – Laura Godfrey; bass – Jim Roderick; violin – Wes Mason; guitar – Shawn Zimmerman

"The Last Five Years" will play for just three more performances: March 19 and 20 at 8 p.m., and March 21 at 2 p.m. Seating will be limited to 100 tickets per performance in accordance with state COVID guidelines.

For reservations, call (301) 759-4990, or visit www.cumberlandtheatre.com. Cumberland Theatre reserves the right to alter any online reservations in order to comply with social distancing regulations.