REVIEW: “The Last Five Years” — International City Theatre, Long Beach

Updated: Jun 5, 2021

The idea that love is a two-way street isn't a new one. But that well-traveled trope takes on fresh meaning in this “he said - she said” sung-through.

Breakups, hookups, divorces, engagements: Even if you haven’t been afflicted yourself, you’ve surely heard stories of the dramatic changes Covid-19 has wrought on relationships, as though Cupid himself got feverish and went rogue.

It’s unsurprising, given how the pandemic has redefined space, shrinking the square footage of our lives to a house or a studio apartment. But within that limited proximity, theatre became something new — a new industry if you will. An industry that cleverly recreated the wheel and adapted confined spaces into a virtual reality. A marriage of film and stage was consummated, and that most recent vivid proof is in ICT’s newest, gorgeously performed and neatly contained virtual musical, “The Last Five Years,” an intimate, emotionally powerful masterwork by Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown.

John Battagliese and Gabriela Carrillo

Directed by Jamie Torcellini, musically directed by Graham Sobelman, and starring John Battagliese as Jamie and Gabriela Carrillo as Cathy (recently seen together in “Love Actually, Live!” at the Wallis), the production will stream June 3 through June 20 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at

Plot-wise, you may already know the lowdown: the euphonious 2001 musicale is about the beginning and ending of a long-term relationship between two young New Yorkers. Funny and uplifting, “The Last Five Years” captures some of the most heartbreaking and universally felt moments of modern romance, ingeniously deconstructing their love affair — from meeting to break-up and then from break-up to meeting.

Surprisingly, it's not only the talented leads that provide the interest here — it's the intricate story structure. The song lyrics act as the dialogue. Their story is told almost entirely through song, using an intercutting time line device: Each side of the story is enacted separately, and in opposite chronological order; Cathy, a struggling actress, begins the tale in the future after the fights and farewells, while Jamie, a talented novelist on the path to celebrity, starts in the past in the exciting early days of courtship. Their paths cross briefly in the middle of the musical when Jamie proposes to her and, for the first time in the musical, they sing together ("The Next Ten Minutes"). They get married, exchanging vows to stay together forever.

The real crux of the tension stems from Jamie's skyrocketing novel writing career versus Cathy's going-nowhere-but-Ohio acting career. As such, the plot comes with traces of "Merrily We Roll Along," which also told its story in reverse, and "A Star Is Born." It's Sunset to Sunrise, and Sunrise to Sunset.

As the show begins, Ms. Carillo’s Cathy is sitting alone lamenting the end of her marriage (“Still Hurting”), which has already gone belly-up. We shift to meet Mr. Battagliese’s Jamie. It is five years earlier and he has just met Cathy, and is overjoyed to be dating outside his Jewish heritage ("Shiksa Goddess").