August 24, 2014
This is the first production of 9 Works Theatrical that I had seen since "Sweet Charity" back in 2011. That show starred Ms. Nikki Gil, whose verve and talent was able to transcend that musical's dated book. For this 5th anniversary presentation of this young theater company, 9 Works brings back Ms. Gil, and I wanted to see her perform on stage again. It had also been a long time since I had seen Joaquin Valdez since his excellent turns in "Into the Woods" and "Spring Awakening."
"The Last 5 Years" is about a couple whose 5-year relationship had gone awry. However, the story was not told nor staged in a linear fashion. In fact, if you have not read the synopsis prior to watching (like me), you may not completely get what was happening in the first half of the show. We first see a distraught young lady (Nikki Gil) sorrowful about her lost love. We then see an excited young man (Joaquin Valdez) meeting the ideal goddess for his life. They would alternately sing one "stream of consciousness" song after the other. We would later learn that as the young man was a writer whose name was Jamie, the young lady was an actress whose name was Cathy.
At almost exactly the half-way point of the show, they finally sing together what would be their wedding song. Maybe then, it would dawn on you (as it did to me) that the girl's story was being told backwards, and the boy's story was being told forwards, intersecting only on their wedding day. Truth to tell, even if I already knew what was going on, it was still difficult to understand every little story they were telling. The songs sung to tell the story were not exactly easy on the uninitiated ear because of their unusual melodies, discordant notes, and repetitive loops.
This is not an easy musical for everyone to digest or like. I may be in the minority here, but I cannot say I enjoyed watching this play. The running time was only one and a half hours (without intermission), but it seemed to just be going on and on without making much sense, even if I already knew what was going on. The time-bending story-telling gimmick by Joseph Robert Brown was innovative, but for me, it did not really work on the stage. It did not give me a chance to get to know these two characters enough to commiserate with their predicament.
It was only thankful that we had the likes of Nikki Gil and Joaquin Valdez playing Cathy and Jaime. Their amazing singing and sensitive acting skills were the main reasons to see this rather indulgently-written piece of theater. These two excellent thespians will definitely be up for awards come season's end.
Their highest points were their first songs: "Still Hurting" for Nikki Gil, and "Shiksa Goddess" for Joaquin Valdez. That is what made this musical so frustrating for me. Despite the all the exhaustingly intense, deeply emotive singing by Gil and Valdez, every other song could not compare anymore to those excellent first songs.
I thought this would be a musical composed of duets. I could not have been more off with this assumption. The wedding song "The Next Ten Minutes" was a highlight of sorts since this was the ONLY time they actually sang together. The final songs was staged beautifully with the two actors singing "Goodbye" in different senses and different time frames. They end up on the same bed, but they were not really together. Too bad that was already the final moment of the whole show, but what an ending!
I am not in any way discouraging you from watching this musical. The performances of Gil and Valdez are already worth the price of admission. It could be that I may not really be the target demography of this play that is why I did not like the show too much as a whole. The odd eclectic songs may resonate better with the younger hipper yuppie set better than they did with me. Congratulations to Director Robbie Guevara and the crew of 9 Works for taking on this very challenging project.
"The Last 5 Years" will run only up to next weekend. There will be one show today August 24 at 4 pm. Then next week, on August 29, 8 pm, August 30 at 3:30 pm and 8 pm, and finally on August 31, 4 pm. The venue is at the RCBC Plaza in Makati.