A Charmed Two Hours at THE LAST FIVE YEARS

L5Y TST setWith The Last Five Years, the fledgling Studio Theatre has staked its claim as a force in Little Rock’s community theatre scene.  This production of Jason Robert Brown’s time-bending, two character musical highlights not only the talents Little Rock offers, but also the virtues of the space in which it was performed.

The musical tells of the rise and fall of the relationship of budding novelist Jamie and struggling actress Cathy.  The audience sees his perspective moving forward and her’s moving backwards with the two intersecting only momentarily at their wedding.  Because of this conceit, there is very little chance for interaction between actors Jeremy Hall and Erin Martinez. But what the show does offer is ample opportunities for each to shine as they thoroughly inhabit the characters.

As Cathy, Martinez uses her expressive features and wide vocal range (notes and styles) to move from pathos to frustration to love and excitement.  From his first entrance to his final exit, Hall is full of energy. It moves from nerves to joy to confidence to guilt and finally resignation. His pace may vary, but there is ever-present force in his trajectory.

This is a small show full of quiet moments. Hall and Martinez are both able to maximize these moments with a change in posture, a small gesture, a tilt of the head or a raised eyebrow.  They also each have moments of joyous ebullience where they let go – while staying in character. For Martinez it was “A Summer in Ohio” which joyfully recounts a hellish summer. Hall had several lively songs but his highlight was probably “The Schmuel Song” where he channels a bit of Tevye in a dopey romantic way.

Director Ryan Whitfield kept the action fluid as it shifted between the two perspectives and time frames.  He ensured honest portrayals and created an atmosphere where the audience was more eavesdropping than “watching a performance.” He also kept the continuity so that the two halves of the same scene (played at different times in the show) gelled properly.

Musical Director Mark Binns not only maximized the vocal talents of the two performers, he led the live band through the score’s varied musical styles. (It was a pleasure to walk in to the theatre and hear an orchestra warming up – a joy one misses with pre-recorded music or only a synthesizer or keyboard.)  Musicians Bob Bidewell, Charlie Friedman, Brian Wolverton, Sam Clark and Binns displayed their own musical talents while also supporting the singers.

With a proscenium stage, tiered seating in comfortable chairs, and a balcony for orchestra and technicians, the Studio Theatre provides a “traditional” theatre setting. It, however, has enough flexibility to incorporate a blackbox-like setting as needed.  While theatre can be performed any where, too often community theatre tries to do “proscenium” shows in a blackbox setting for economic and not artistic reasons.  The Studio Theatre space allows for both types of settings which means that decisions can be made based on artistic reasons.

While this production could have been done on a completely blank space, the set (by Whitfield and Matthew Mentgen) features levels and a variety of distinct playing areas that enhanced the production.  The giant clock on the back wall served not only as a visually interesting element, but the changing hands were an added touch as the story moved back and forth.

The Last Five Years tells a tale that is both humorous and heartbreaking, woeful and wistful. These are not heroes and heroines – they are two humans caught up in this thing known as living and loving.  By the end of the performance, Martinez and Hall have taken the audience on a journey full of faults, flaws, fascination, fondness, first-dates, first novels and a snake named Wayne. What more could you want?

 

 

The Last Five Years continues Friday and Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm at The Studio Theatre.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS for 5 performances only at the Studio Theatre

last-five-years-musical-54There are always at least two sides to every story.  In Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years, the audience get the “his” and “her” perspectives of a relationship. But there is a twist. One is told forwards, while one is told backwards with the characters meeting in the middle.  It is a funny, charming, heartwarming, heartbreaking look at life, love and loss.  Jamie is a rising novelist and Cathy is a struggling actress.  The challenges of their two careers add a layer to the complexities of their relationship.

The Studio Theatre is presenting this two character musical January 16, 17, 23, 24 & 25.  The Friday and Saturday performances are at 7pm and the Sunday performance starts at 2pm.

Ryan Whitfield directed Jeremy Hall and Erin Martinez in the production. Mark Binns in the musical director.

The Studio Theatre is connected to the Lobby Bar which provides opportunities for libations (beer, wine and non-alocholic) before the show, at intermission and after the show.

Little Shop of Horrors continues at The Studio Theatre

LSOHTSTThe second production of The Studio Theatre is the award winning 1983 musical Little Shop of Horrors.  Featuring book and lyrics by Oscar winner Howard Ashman and music by Oscar winner Alan Menken it is based on an early film from Roger Corman.

The cast includes Sharayah Wallace, Jess Carson, Denai Brown, Jeremiah James Herman, Gabi Baltzley, Jeremy Hall, David Weatherly, Duane Jackson and Mark Burbank.

The show is directed by Michael Henderson with music direction by Matthew David Mentgen.  Brandon Nichols is the choreographer.

The show opened on Thursday, September 11.  It continues tonight, September 18-20 and September 25-27 at 7:30pm.  On September 21, there is a special 5pm performance.

Tickets are $20.

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN inaugurates new Studio Theatre in downtown LR

TST YAGMCBLittle Rock’s newest downtown performance space opens tonight.  The premier production of The Studio Theatre is You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown based on the Comic Strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz with book, music and lyrics by Clark M. Gesner.  Additional songs were written by Andrew Lippa.

The show is directed by Jeremy Hall and musical directed by Bob Bidewell.  Drew Samuelson is the technical director.

The cast for the show is Mark Burbank-Charlie Brown, Rachel Garrett Bland – Lucy, Sam Barker-Linus, Gabi Baltzley-Sally, Brandon Nichols-Snoopy and Kent Wulf-Schroeder.

The show runs June 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28 at 7:30pm.  There is a special performance on Sunday, June 22 at 5:00pm.

For more information, visit www.thestudiotheatre.org