SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Repertory Theater Company continues to bring a fresh perspective to Salt Lake’s theatre scene by producing rarely seen but critically acclaimed pieces. Up next is Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years. Erin Carlson and Rhett Richins, who star as Cathy and Jamie, share some thoughts on this unusual love story.
Utah Repertory Theater Company has been shining light on stand-out local talent. Where have UTBA readers seen you before?
ERIN CARLSON: This last season I worked for Hale Centre Theatre playing Fantine in Les Misérables and Fred’s Wife/Poor Wife in their 30th anniversary production of A Christmas Carol. These past three summers, I’ve been at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City playing Velma Kelly in Chicago (Dark Horse Theatre Company), Eva Peron in Evita, and Cassie in A Chorus Line.
RHETT RICHINS: Frederick in The Pirates of Penzance, Laurie in Little Women, Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities, and Joe in 9 to 5: the Musical at Hale Centre Theatre, Cervantes/Quixote in Man of La Mancha at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, Rodger in A New Brain for Dark Horse and Egyptian Theater, Miss Saigon, Light in the Piazza, and My Fair Lady at Pioneer Theatre Company.
Jason Robert Brown is a really powerful and popular contributor to modern musical theatre. What do you think it is about his work that excites both audiences and performers so much?
CARLSON: He writes the UNEXPECTED! To me, he’s very much a contemporary Stephen Sondheim who uses clever time changes and really interesting chord structures.
RICHINS: Jason Robert Brown is the master of honest story telling, through piercing lyrics and thoughtfully complex, yet sparse orchestration.
What draws you to this unorthodox love story?
CARLSON: It’s a cliché story, one that unfortunately occurs in lots of relationships. The word “raw” comes to mind, and it’s going to hit to close to home for some. I was head over heels about the music of course, but that fact that both characters get to experience every emotion possible and sing some of the hardest songs in musical theatre makes this piece delightfully challenging.
RICHINS: The fact that it addresses the true struggles of a relationship, and not the watered-down Hollywood romance that we are all tired of hearing. This story is based in fact, and makes me reflect on my own life and the way my decisions impact others.
The story of Cathy and Jamie takes place over five years, but we see it from two points of view. Cathy starts at the end and moves backwards while Jamie starts at the beginning and moves forward. How does this affect the process of creating your character?
CARLSON: The biggest plan of attack for my story was to work it backwards often enough to get some continuity. Cathy’s character is indeed unique because it’s harder to get younger rather than age. So with my directors (musical and stage), we talked at length about a lighter sound as I go backwards and obviously the change in body language and maturity.
RICHINS: In this, I have the easier path of being able to push my character through the standard chronological journey. From a story telling perspective, the opposing timelines allow for greater contrast as the story unfolds with alternating moments of love and loss, heartbreak, and hope.
The Last 5 Years has only two characters. What is it like being stand-alone storytellers?
CARLSON: This is when you feel naked on stage! No, I absolutely love it when I don’t necessarily have props in my hands or crosses to make to portray the kind of emotions these two characters have. It’s real in that it all bears on what we feel in our heart and that changes our body language and facial expression naturally. Our amazing director, John Sweeney, has us planted in some of these scenes so we don’t get to use a lot of hand gestures as a crutch to portray our story.
RICHINS: This has been a bit of a struggle for me. As an actor, one of the best resources you have is your fellow actor. We feed each other energy and emotion. We provide a real-time sounding board for one another.
You portray these characters over five years and some huge life changes. What is your favorite part about your character’s journey?
CARLSON: I think my favorite part is the direction of the story. (Cathy) becomes more positive and more innocent as the piece moves forward.
RICHINS: My favorite moment for Jamie on this journey is (the song) “If I Didn’t Believe in You.” This is a key moment of the show where Jamie establishes his love for Cathy while drawing a clear line of what he needs and what he is willing to accept from their relationship.
There has been a lot of buzz about the current movie adaptation of The Last 5 Years. Why do you think this piece is so relevant right now?
CARLSON: It is a timeless piece. There are films being made of unlikely material, specifically Into the Woods and Follies. Audiences are mature enough to handle material that isn’t always a smiley, happy ending.
RICHINS: It’s the raw truth of this piece that will keep it relevant over time. We are all devoted to and love our significant other, but we are also human and selfish.
What do you hope audiences take away from this production?
CARLSON: An appreciation for their significant other and the desire to work on their relationships. The worst part about this story is that I feel Jamie and Cathy could have made it. They gave up on communicating, and ultimately their own selfishness destroyed what they had. Marriages and relationships are hard. Even the healthiest ones need constant attention. When you truly love someone, you are willing to sacrifice.
RICHINS: A need for self-reflection, and better platform from which to see their life and relationships.