One of the finest musical theatre works of all time, Jason Robert Brown's "The Last Five Years", is being released as a movie this weekend. I will be seeing it tomorrow in NYC and then staying for a Q and A session with Brown and director Richard LaGravenesse afterward. To say I am stoked would be an enormous understatement.
I intentionally have not watched or listened to a single "teaser" clip from the movie, and I have not watched the theatrical trailer. It has been tough, with the soundtrack having been available for download for four days now. I know the music and the show inside-out, and I really cannot wait to hear how the music has been adapted for the big screen. While I have my skepticism about how an artistic piece so intimate and personal can be blown up into a full-length movie, particularly given that several extras (including JRB himself) are featured in the movie, I want to go in with a completely clean slate tomorrow. Will I love it? Will I hate it? Will my reaction be somewhere in the middle? I don't know and I won't know until tomorrow, but the initial buzz seems to be overwhelmingly positive, so I am optimistic that I will love it. And I really should, because an encounter between JRB himself and Stephen Sondheim has made us consider the possibility that the only acceptable thing to say to a composer after seeing his or her work is "I loved it". (Go Here to read the full story; it's quite interesting and my opinions and thoughts after reading it are mixed.)
Given that JRB will be at the showing I will be attending, I really hope to be able to shake his hand and (honestly) tell him "I loved (it)", and I really do think I will be able to do that.
I couldn't resist reading an interview of sorts with LaGravenesse (the director) today, though, and this quote of his expertly sums up what I have felt about the musical almost since I first was exposed to it. You can read my complete thoughts on the musical version here. Here, he speaks of the "Shmuel Song", which itself is a metaphorical story written for Cathy by Jamie as a way to show her just how much he believes in her and loves her.
"I went back and excavated the song and realized it wasn't what he was singing, it was why he was singing it. And once I unlocked that secret or that intention, I understood how to do it," LaGravenese says. "It's a very important song because it's the one time you see...how much he loves her and how much he will go through and the efforts he will make to boost her morale and to make her feel good about herself and how much he believes in her. The problem in their marriage —??where she's more neurotic and more in her own way and he's so supportive, so later on when he sings 'Nobody Needs to Know' and he sings, ['We build a treehouse / I keep it from shaking'] while he's sleeping with other women —??the 'Schmuel' thing is the kind of thing he's been doing throughout the marriage. That just doesn't work, and he can't do it anymore. That song became really important once I understood why it was there."
There really are two sides to (nearly) every story and situation and, while I know for a fact that it is impossible to truly understand a particular situation unless you are immersed in it, it is often easy to form a solid allegiance to one party in a situation like this. Several people side with Cathy because, well, Jamie cheated on her and broke up with her by leaving her a note. It's true. He did. I don't condone cheating (or breaking up any way other than in person). Jamie is an immature character, and he could have handled the end of the relationship differently.
However, it is important to look at what, for lack of better words, drove him to act out in such a way. I really do think that, as LaGravenesse suggests above, the Shmuel song is representative of what Jamie has been doing throughout his and Cathy's relationship -- trying desperately to help her believe in herself and boost her self-esteem. On the other hand, while Cathy is clearly proud to be dating (and later married to) such a successful author, I am not sure she ever explicitly gives JAMIE HIMSELF any emotional support. Imagine busting your ass for the one you love, constantly being his or her cheerleader and support rock, and not receiving any support or encouragement from him or her in return. Yes, Jamie was considerably more successful than Cathy from a professional standpoint, but her lack of support shown to him (and I mean HIM as a person) combined with his feeling that his efforts to boost her up are going nowhere......left him feeling like there was no good way out. Driven by this dearth of emotional support and availability from his own wife, and lacking the maturity to make a better decision, Jamie sought out his publisher (Elise) to have his physical and emotional needs met.
I don't condone cheating and I don't doubt that Jamie's decision to cheat on Cathy was the nail in the coffin, but I have no doubt in my mind that, as much as ANYTHING, Cathy was responsible for the failure of their relationship. No, she was never a particularly confident character to begin with, and yes, it can be argued that some of that could stem from mental health issues and thus debated that to some extent she may not be at fault. Regardless, though, both partners need to support and be available to each other in any romantic relationship. If it is, or becomes, a one-way street, as was the case with Jamie and Cathy, it won't work.
How does all of this relate to Valentine's Day? Regardless of whether or not you are romantically involved with someone, I have two things to ask of everyone. Be supportive and emotionally available to those near and dear to you (be they friends, family, or romantic partners), and be grateful to those who have been supportive and emotionally available to you. Yes, The Last Five Years is a piece of musical theatre with fictional characters, but I really feel like it is a terrific reminder to all of us to remember how much of a MULTIPLE-WAY-STREET every relationship (romantic or platonic) is. The support and emotional availability have to come from both directions. It's not easy, but we all need to make that effort. There's no way around it, because that, at the core, is what love is.