A soundtrack to love gained and lost 

A soundtrack to love gained and lost 

02/20/2024 

“The Last Five Years” is ready to prove that the best musicals don’t always need the spectacle of big sets and deafening dance numbers.   

The show, a collaboration between SUNY Cortland’s Performing Arts Department and Cortland Repertory Theatre, uses basic sets and award-winning songs to tell a bittersweet tale of love lost.  

The curtain comes up at the Cortland Repertory Theatre’s downtown location at 24-26 Port Watson St. Thursday, Feb. 22, and the show will run through Sunday, Feb. 25. Showtimes are: 

  • Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m. 
  • Feb. 23, 7:30 p.m. 
  • Feb. 24, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. 
  • Feb. 25, 2 p.m. 

Tickets are available at SUNY Cortland’s online Ticket Office, with discounts for seniors, students, faculty and staff.  

A two-person musical, “The Last Five Years” follows the course of a failed relationship between actor Cathy Hiatt and writer Jamie Wellerstein, starting Cathy’s story at the end and Jamie’s when they first meet. The two alternate songs that reveal their perspectives as they travel through the same timeline in opposite directions. 

Five-Years-Poster.jpg

Cortland’s production rotates a cast of four musical theatre major actors, Devin Bethards of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., who graduated last semester and returned for the show, senior Kara Vito of Lynbrook, N.Y., junior Xander Holden of Fort Edward, N.Y., and senior Aria Odendaal of Lebanon, N.J., over the four days of performances. 

“I’ve really enjoyed working with the whole cast and team," said Vito, who plays Cathy. “They are all so talented and dedicated to fulfilling this show’s potential.” 

Director Deena Conley, associate professor and chair in the Performing Arts Department, expects the audience to enjoy a relatable story that mirrors real-life relationship struggles set to a soundtrack written by acclaimed writer Jason Robert Brown.  

“There’s very, very limited dialogue in the show, so it’s a sing-through ... and I just think his music is beautiful,” she said, noting that another show with Brown’s music, “Parade,” recently won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. 

Inspired by Brown’s own marriage and divorce, “The Last Five Years” won the Drama Desk Award for Best Music and Lyrics for its Off-Broadway debut in 2002 and was ranked by Time Magazine as one of the 10 best theater releases of 2001. Since then, it’s had multiple revivals, including a 2014 film starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.  

“It’s been a very unique experience for me,” said Bethards, who plays Jamie. “I’ve never been such a big part in a musical before. I don’t know how many shows even have parts this big. It’s a two-person show so I have the spotlight for 50% of the entire show. Not only that, but while each of us have a scene, we’re usually alone during it. So, there is literally nothing to hide behind.” 

A rotating cast of four offers unique lessons to Conley and the students themselves. 

“The actors are really acting with somebody different every night of the performance, which would be another challenge for them, and also for me to make sure that ... all four actors feel ready, no matter what pairing they’re in that night.” 

The Performing Arts Department decided on a musical with a smaller number of roles after class sizes temporarily decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our enrollment numbers are back to where they were pre-COVID,” Conley said. “But we still have these smaller classes of our upperclassmen. And so I thought, with the rest of the faculty, if we’re ever going to do something like this, now is the time.” 

Due to a licensing issue delay from last fall, the show was rescheduled for the spring semester with CRT’s downtown location as venue. Thanks to the collaboration, the students involved will get a professional credit on their resumes.


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