When Lost Nation Theater got the rights to stage The Last 5 Years, cofounder Kathleen Keenan was delighted but surprised. "The movie [version of the musical] is coming out this summer; sometimes they withhold rights when things like this happen," she says.
But never mind the film starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. Keenan will direct the award-winning musical, written by Jason Robert Brown, that begins at Montpelier City Hall Auditorium this Thursday, May 8. While the cinematic version will likely incorporate more actors and scenes in backstory, the stage version has just two actors, a simple but innovative set (by Casey Covey) and what Keenan calls "glorious" music.
For LNT, singer-actors Mary McNulty and Aaron Aubrey play Cathy, an aspiring actress, and Jamie, a novelist, respectively. Keenan says what's unique — in fact, groundbreaking — about the play is that the story is told "from front to back and back to front." That is, Jamie recounts the couple's relationship from just after their first meeting; Cathy begins at the end, with the receipt of her "Dear Jane" letter, and shares her memories in reverse. "They don't actually ever sing together until they meet in the middle," says Keenan. "Yet they're present in each other's songs."
The director gushes about Brown's music — and audiences from Chicago, where the play debuted in 2001, to stages in New York and Europe appear to have felt the same. "If you're not usually a music-theater fan, you'll still love this show because there's so much heart in it," Keenan says. "And as a musical, it's just so damn good."
Helping to deliver that music in Montpelier is Stephen W. Jones, fresh off a 15-month stint as assistant conductor and pianist for an international tour of West Side Story. "We're absolutely thrilled he's joining us," Keenan says. "It's his first time in Vermont ... and after spending so much time with 35-plus actors and 30-plus musicians, he's excited to do the kind of detailed work you can only do with two actors in an intimate space."
The Last 5 Years is about a couple whose relationship spans their late twenties and early thirties, so it's not surprising the story has appealed to young audiences. And it's no coincidence that LNT has chosen this week to launch an initiative to encourage younger Vermonters to attend the theater.
One prong of the company's approach is LNTix, a reduced-price ticket program for 18-to-40-year-olds. Another is LNT Afterhours, in which participating local businesses offer discounts and late-night entertainment to customers showing a ticket stub from a show. Upcoming Afterhours events will take place at the North Branch Café and Sweet Melissa's.
Lost Nation aims to help young parents catch a show by partnering with the Family Center of Washington County and offering free childcare during matinees. More info about these programs — and The Last 5 Years — can be found on LNT's website.
"There's a lot in the season that's potentially a lot of fun for young folks," Keenan says. "For people who haven't yet discovered that they love the theater" — but, she hopes, soon will.