Luciano Marano | The Bainbridge Island Review - Rachel Noll James during a recent rehearsal of inD Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Last Five Years.”

Luciano Marano | The Bainbridge Island Review - Rachel Noll James during a recent rehearsal of inD Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Last Five Years.”

Musical memories: inD Theatre revives ‘The Last Five Years’

The language of the musical is, ironically, often just as much spectacle as it is sound. There is operatic pageantry choreographed into the DNA of most truly beloved musicals, from the immense exaggerations of Gilbert and Sullivan to the fantastic Hollywood-style dreamscapes of modern Broadway hits, all brought to life by a veritable army of costume-clad cast members.

Here, then, is the opposite: a cast of two people who barely interact directly, a small stage of half sets.

Yes, “The Last Five Years” isn’t exactly your typical drama club musical — and that seems to be what people like most about it.

Written and composed by Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown, the show has been praised by Rolling Stone, Variety and Time (which called it one of the best 10 shows of 2001) and it racked up a bunch of Drama Desk Awards and one Outer Critics Circle Award nomination, too.

It tells the story of one couple’s five-year relationship, from the thrills of new love to the painful separation. However, Jamie tells the story from beginning to end, while Catherine relates it in reverse, and the characters’ emotional timelines converge only once — at their wedding in the middle of the show.

A new inD Theatre revival of the show, directed by Shannon Dowling and starring Rachel Noll James and Jesse Smith, will take the stage at Rolling Bay Hall at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18 and Saturday, Jan. 19, Friday, Jan. 25 through Sunday, Jan. 27 and Friday, Feb. 1 through Sunday, Feb. 3. It is recommended for audiences 13 and older, and the running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

Admission is free (donations are accepted), and reservations (highly recommended) can be made at

Smith, of Seattle, is a familiar face to Bainbridge Performing Arts show attendees, though this is his first inD Theatre production.

Relatively new to Bainbridge, but no stranger to the spotlight, James moved here from L.A. slightly more than a year ago. She first met Dowling when the two were directing separate offerings in the last Island Theatre Ten-Minute Play Festival, and under the inD Theatre banner as cast members in the recent production of “Under Milk Wood.”

It was, Dowling said, James who first chose the show to pitch to inD Theatre officials.

“How this happened,” Dowling said, “[inD Theatre has] been talking with artists about, ‘What do you want to do? What’s your passion project?’ And so mine was ‘Closed for Maintenance,’ which they opened [the season] with. Then [Rachel] said what about ‘The Last Five Years’ and asked me to direct.”

It will be the fledgling company’s first musical production, and material which inD officials were unfamiliar with, so Dowling set about, with help of intended cast and crew, to stage a pitch that could not be refused: a full reading with both stars and musical accompaniment.

It went over as well as they’d hoped.

Both stars and the director were familiar with the material, and James had in fact been in the show before.

“I actually played the role in college when I was 20 and too young to really fully understand it,” James said. “So I always had this notion that I’d love the chance to revisit it and do a full rehearsal process for it just because, the dynamics of relationships I’ve always loved, and always been fascinated by, and so I think getting to dive into that is always really fun.”

Smith marveled at the level of character study involved pre-production, something he said he’d never seen done for a musical before.

“We are on stage together for about a minute and thirty seconds throughout the whole show,” he said. “A lot of the rehearsal process has been building that relationship between us even though we’re not on stage [together] the whole time. Even when we’re talking to a wall, we’re talking to nobody, we know what the relationships is.

“I think it’s a different vibe for sure,” James added.

“I think on bigger musicals and less intimate shows it can be more about the flash and pizzazz of presenting, but this is literally a character study of two people and I think the show succeeds when you feel like you know both of them by the end, which is different than most musicals.”

The director agreed, saying those reticent of musicals should not turn away too quickly.

“To me it’s more like a play that happens to be a musical as well,” Dowling said. “They happen to be singing their feelings, but it’s more like a play than most musicals.”

More in Life

Best Bets for Feb. 22-24 | The Bainbridge Blab

There are slim pickings fun-wise round the Rock for this, supposedly a… Continue reading

BHS returns student-crafted ‘Winter One Acts’

Bainbridge High School’s annual “Winter One Acts” play festival will conclude with… Continue reading

BPA Theatre School now enrolling spring classes

Bainbridge Performing Arts Theatre School enrollment for spring classes is now open… Continue reading

Film Detective 101: Island author explores secret world of ‘Stock Footage’

Don’t let the title fool you, there’s nothing “stock” about James Forsher’s… Continue reading

Noted ecology authors debuts first novel

Noted ecologist Robert Michael Pyle, author of “Wintergreen” and “Where Bigfoot Walks,”… Continue reading

Best Bets for Feb. 15-17 | The Bainbridge Blab

Now that you survived Snowmageddon, it’s time to enjoy the weekend. The… Continue reading

BPA announces 2019-2020 production lineup

Bainbridge Performing Arts’ 2019-2020 season has been announced and is set to… Continue reading

‘My Fair Lady’ back on the big screen

The 1964 musical drama “My Fair Lady” will return to the big… Continue reading

‘Dead Certain’ reading set for the library

Island Theatre will present a staged play reading of the psychological thriller… Continue reading

Island students visit BIMA’s latest offering

Kindergartners and third- and fourth-graders from St. Cecilia Catholic School recently visited… Continue reading

BHS’ Winter One Acts postponed due to winter weather

The second and final two shows of this year’s Bainbridge High School… Continue reading

Best Bets for Feb. 8-10 | The Bainbridge Blab

The weather outside’s bout to get downright frightful. Bundle up and stay… Continue reading