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The Henderson Project – The Last Five Years

February 8, 2014

TheLastFiveYears(WyattBiessel2)1(photo credit: Wyatt Biessel)

Event: “The Last Five Years” (as part of The Henderson Project by Dream Academy)
Venue: 203A Henderson Road
Run: 6th – 15th Feb 2014

Separate Ways

Dream Academy launches a bold and exciting new project called The Henderson Project (nice ring to it don’t you think?), which is sort of like an off-Broadway concept of staging small, intimate productions at their very own premises over at Henderson Road.

For a company that is used to staging large glitzy shows at both the Esplanade Theatre and the Drama Centre Theatre, this represents quite a refreshing change in both scale and  concept.

The first of two shows they staged is the popular off-Broadway chamber musical “The Last Five Years” written by Jason Robert Brown, which has garnered rave reviews and has enjoyed numerous restagings ever since its 1991 premiere in Chicago.

It tells of a bittersweet love story between Jamie, a successful author, and his wife Cathy, a struggling actress, but with the clever twist of having Jamie’s story told chronologically but Cathy’s timeline being portrayed backwards, with the only meeting point being the midway point in the show where they get married.

And apart from the midway point scene, the two actors never come into contact the rest of the musical, and they each take turns to do a song for each scene, one after another.

Cathy, played by Mina Kaye, starts off the musical lamenting the end of her marriage, while in the following scene Jamie, played by Linden Furnell, waxes lyrical about the new love of his life whom he had just met, and for the rest of the musical, the lives and fortunes of the two start moving in contrary motion.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Mina and Linden on the same stage in a chamber musical – last year’s “Edges” by Sight Lines Productions comes to mind – and it is undeniable that they look great together on stage and share good chemistry with each other, even if the presentational limitations of this musical didn’t exactly allow for it to shine through.

Mina’s singing voice is charming as always, possessing an enviable sense of clarity to it that can only remind one of a Disney female lead character, while Linden always brings with him a sense of energy and youthful enthusiasm that is infectious.

The actors put in marvellous performances, Mina’s role obviously giving her greater room to be emotive, capturing the highs and the lows of the relationship and the insecurities that make up her person, while Linden does a solid job portraying the Jamie to whom everything comes easy in life, and doing especially well to hold the audience’s attention in the rather lengthy “The Schmuel Song”.

The set is simple, with barely five blocks on an empty stage and not much else, presumably also because the of the limitations of the space, while the five piece band (keyboard, guitar, bass, cello, violin) led by Julian Wong did very well to handle some of the more challenging musical arrangements.

Jason Robert Brown’s score is impressive, and it is undeniable that he writes good tunes and lyrics which resonate and give insight into the feelings and emotions of the characters.

However – and it could be because of the soliloquy nature of the songs (the fact that Jamie and Cathy never actually interact apart from the wedding scene) – while the songs all worked well, it was hard to find a moment which was truly heart wrenching, which burrowed down into the recesses of your soul.

I also felt that the unique storytelling angle employed in this musical, while clever, didn’t exactly work to the benefit of the entire whole, and I found it trying at points to stay interested in the proceedings having already known how it all ends right from the start.

And the fact that the characters hardly ever meet apart from that one scene did frustrate me too, because I felt that the relationship could have been fleshed out so much more had this been more than just a succession of soliloquies.

Or maybe that was the whole point of it all – to show how Jamie and Cathy were never really on the same page right from the start, and that the only brief time in their lives in which they truly shared a moment together was when they exchanged wedding vows.

If this inaugural production of The Henderson Project is anything to go by, I see great potential in this pilot project.

The venue holds barely 50 seats, but it’s cosy and has great acoustics and lighting facilities.

It’s nice that there is ample room as well for a five-piece band, although the performance area for the actors seems unnaturally lateral (it’s almost like watching a tennis match).

Dream Academy has a great following on social media, so even though they distribute tickets on their own for The Henderson Project and not through SISTIC, I think they should have no problems selling tickets for intimate shows like these.

A project like this – being able to use your very own space and selling tickets through your own means, definitely offers them huge flexibilty in decision-making and is likely to result in less compromises in creative choices.

I give The Henderson Project a huge thumbs up, and I definitely see this as the start of fantastic things to come.

In a theatre scene where performance venues are so hard to come by, it’s so heartening to see new viable venues being uncovered every now and then.

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