By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
Upon exiting The Cabaret at The Columbia Club Friday after seeing "The Last Five Years in Concert" this writer encountered Arts Council of Indianapolis president and CEO David Lawrence in the lobby and asked him, "What did you think of the show?" Lawrence's answered that he felt that attending the sold out show was "a privilege." This reviewer concurs.
The Cabaret, now in its 7th season, has enjoyed its share of coups throughout a remarkable history during which they have presented many of the biggest names in cabaret and musical theatre. Over the years, Examiner.com has covered most of the Cabaret's shows but considers this concert version of Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown's (who himself performed at the Cabaret in 2011) among its best. That estimation is based on the performances of Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor, who co-starred in the 2014 Off-Broadway revival of Brown's, nearly-cult musical, which they triumphantly reprised here.
"The Last Five Years." which is based on Brown's failed marriage, is story about a five-year relationship between Jamie, a rising novelist, and Cathy, a struggling actress. Using an unconventional form of storytelling, Brown recounts Cathy's story in reverse chronological order (at the end of the marriage). Jamie's is told in chronological order (just after the couple meet for the first time). The characters do not interact with one another except in the middle as their timelines intersect when they are married.
As mentioned previously, it was Wolfe and Kantor's incomparable vocal and dramatic talents that gave their respective performances, individually and together, a quality that was indeed rare.
Wolfe, a frequent Broadway performer who has also sung opera and performed with symphony orchestras all over the world, most recently appeared in Woody Allen's musical adaptation of "Bullets over Broadway." A vibrant soprano, she more than lived up to her sterling credentials, showing off both her serious and comic acting skills by excelling at songs from Brown's pop-rock influenced score with witty, clever lyrics. Wolfe was especially funny as Cathy auditioning for a job in "Climbing Uphill" and, by contrast, heartbreaking in "Still Hurting," which her character sings after her marriage ends.
Kantor will soon be appearing (he's playing Motel, the tailor) in a Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof", which opens in Jan. of 2016. Kantor starred in the final cast of "Rent" on Broadway and was also in "Next to Normal." Like Wolfe, he demonstrated formidable vocal and acting skills, not to mention an impressive range as he performed Brown's often complex songs. Possessing a richly-toned tenor voice, Wolfe powerfully sang the intense "If I Didn't Believe In You," in which Jamie vents his frustration at Cathy, who he feels is unsupportive of his successful career because hers is not. Showing versatility he charmingly interpreted "The Schmuel Song," a story about a tailor he tells to Cathy during their first Christmas together.
Pianist Matt Gallagher, who also appeared previously at the Cabaret (in 2011 with Broadway star, Stephanie J. Block), accompanied Wolfe and Kantor. Gallagher was masterful as he effortlessly executed Brown's sometime frenetic, rhythmically challenging score with no sign of visible strain or fatigue.
For some, the music created by Brown, beloved by many for his contemporary take on musical theater, is an acquired taste, but no one can ever accuse it of being pedestrian or bland. And as performed by the gifted duo of Wolfe and Kantor, the music from "The Last Five Years" in this concert version was compelling for its success at drawing one into Brown's story without benefit of sets, lighting, costumes or props. More than just a concert, it was pure, awe-inspiring theatre.
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"One of the best environments for serious music fans in town!"Cabaret Guest