When it comes to Off-Broadway musicals that strike a cultural vein, Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years has to be in the upper echelon. The show debuted at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois in 2001 and then had its New York premiere Off-Broadway on March 3, 2002. The 2002 Original Cast Recording, featuring Norbert Leo Butz (WICKED, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Sherie René Scott (Aida, The Little Mermaid), is one of Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records' best selling albums. Now, the 2013 Off-Broadway Revival Cast Recording, starring Adam Kantor and Betsy Wolfe (2012 Broadway Revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood), is available for purchase, giving audiences an insight into Second Stage Theatre's limited run that occurred earlier this year. It also promises to revitalize and refresh the fan base before the film adaptation, starring Jeremy Jordan (NBC's SMASH) and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), hits theaters in the near future.
For fans of Brown's intimate two-person musical, there is a lot to love about the revival's cast recording. The now iconic score is wonderfully preserved on the disc. If anything, the music sounds cleaner and more distinctive, as music direction by Tom Murray really emphasizes the inherent eclectic vibe of Brown's score. The distinctions between pop, jazz, klezmer, rock, and folk are all more obvious and easier to appreciate on this recording. Perhaps it has something to do with Brown's risky recording process, which put the musicians and singers in the same room to record the music at the same time. This ensures that everything pops with more vibrant life on the record.
Taking on the role of Jamie, Kantor sounds as if he graduated from the Norbert Leo Butz School of Voice. For those that rigidly cling to the original recording, he is your safety net and zip line back to 2002. He does offer some variations from Butz's take on the role, especially as he sometimes enunciates and swallows a vowel like Dave Matthews. However, the changes are minimal. Regardless, Kantor's spirited voice is clean and handles the required range of emotions well. He makes numbers like "Shiksa Goddess," "Moving Too Fast," "The Schmuel Song," and "If I Didn't Believe in You" spirited and captivating.
Wolfe's take on Cathy is where audiences will notice the most dynamic differences between the two cast albums. Wolfe uses her voice with more control than Scott does on the 2002 album, limiting the amount of nasal timbre that makes its way onto the disc. Almost everything that Wolfe does on this album is an improvement on Scott's performance, especially her beautiful "Still Hurting," peppy "I'm A Part of That," lush "The Next Ten Minutes," and sprightly "Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence."
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Ghostlight Records released The Last Five Years (2013 Off-Broadway Cast Recording) both in stores and via digital outlets on September 24, 2013. The album can be purchased from Ghostlight Records, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.