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Liner Notes: On Two Two-Handers, THE LAST FIVE YEARS & MARRY ME A LITTLE

 by Andy Propst on 11/11/2013 to News
In our guest blog series, theater journalist Andy Propst gives an insider's look (and listen!) to some of the newest releases in the Ghostlight Records catalogue, as well as reflecting on some of our past recordings. After sharing some insight on HANDS ON A HARDBODY, Andy shares some thoughts on two two-hander musicals, THE LAST FIVE YEARS and MARRY ME A LITTLE: 

With its recent releases, the new cast recordings of The Last Five Years and Marry Me a Little, Ghostlight Records takes listeners into the realms of a pair of two character musicals. The recordings, which feature music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and Stephen Sondheim, respectively, don’t only share the same scale, but also a number of other remarkable similarities, making for a fascinating dual listening experience.

Perhaps most notable about the shows is their non-traditional structure. In The Last Five Years, Brown charts a couple’s relationship from their first meeting through their giddy courtship to their marriage and sadly, their divorce. Their story isn’t told linearly, however, but rather, from two perspective. The show works from beginning to end for Jamie (played by Adam Kantor) and in the reserve order for Cathy (Betsy Wolfe). There’s only one point in which the characters’ timelines converge, and that’s when they sing the haunting “The Next Ten Minutes” during Jamie’s proposal to Cathy. Otherwise, the show is comprised solely of musical monologues or soliloquies for the two.

The two characters in Marry Me a Little (played by Jason Tam and Lauren Molina) are likewise kept on two different planes. In this revue of Stephen Sondheim’s music, devised by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene, you meet two single New Yorkers, who are each spending a Saturday night alone with just one floor between them in their apartment building.  Using little-known songs from shows like Company, Follies, and A Little Night Music, the show also creates a vivid portrait of urban agita and an aching desire for connection.  

Interestingly, the way in which this latter musical was assembled, using songs that span some 40 years, gives it an aural time-traveling feel, which makes its connection to “Years” feel even stronger.  It’s terrific to listen to Tam and Molina sing some of the sweetest, slightly old-fashioned tunes, like “A Moment With You” and “So Many People,” which Sondheim wrote in the 1950s for the musical Saturday Night before they move into a couple a pieces with a more modern urgency – “Happily Ever After” and “Marry Me a Little” – which were precursors to the now iconic “Being Alive” in Company.

Beyond these somewhat ephemeral links between The Last Five Years and Marry Me a Little, there are the more concrete ones that are related to the songs themselves.  Love is love, after all, and the feelings that are inspired by having it - or wanting it - are timeless.  

Thus, a listen to exuberantly comic “Shiksa Goddess” in “Years,” in which the Jewish-raised Jamie humorously recounts his dating failures along with his delight in meeting Gentile Cathy, has an apt counterpart in “Beautiful Girls,” in which the guy in “Marry Me” goes into an Irving Berlin-like reverie about women he might hope to meet. The emotions of both of these songs can also be heard at times during the near-breathless excitement that courses through “Moving Too Fast” in Years.

You might also find yourself also musing on how “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” a melancholy ode to hopeful “ever after,” which is another Follies tune in “Marry Me,” presupposes so many of the assumptions that Cathy makes about her relationship with Jamie in Years. And, when the former tune is interrupted by the aggressive, militaristic “Bang” (originally intended for Sondheim’s A Little Night Music), well, you might think that antagonism that is inherent to so much of Jamie and Cathy’s relationship is getting a perfect musical expression.

Regardless of the synergy that courses between these two recordings, they each stand on their own. Further, both are notable because they differ from the first recordings that each show received when originally produced.  Years has additional music that was unrecorded on its first cast album while Marry Me features a new songlist, boasting most notably the first-time recording of “Rainbows,” a number Sondheim penned for the movie version of Into the Woods.  

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