Time works in mysterious ways in “The Last Five Years.”
Jason Robert Brown’s musical, now playing in a brisk and breezy new production at American Conservatory Theater, follows a young couple’s relationship from love’s first blush to bitter breakup.
Jamie, a writer, and Cathy, an actress, start the show with a kiss. From there, the story proceeds on twin tracks, with Jamie tracing their relationship from hopeful beginning to sad end. Cathy’s version of events moves in the opposite direction, from that final kiss to the lovers’ promising initial encounter five years earlier.
It’s a novel approach to a classic situation. Jamie and Cathy have the usual relationship issues, but watching them unfold from different ends of this well-calibrated drama gives “The Last Five Years” an intriguing layer of interest.
It also creates an oddly distancing effect.
Brown’s 2001 show, which was adapted for film in 2014, alternates between the characters in fairly pat, predictable ways. Early in the relationship, Jamie expresses elation at having landed this “shiksa goddess.” Cathy is enchanted with the idea of a guy who can commit.
Then his career takes off; hers stalls. He’s unavailable; she’s hurt. She’s angry; he has an affair. There’s a generic feel to these characters, and by the end (or the beginning) of their story, both remain fairly one-dimensional.
Still, there are moments in director Michael Berresse’s production that charm.
Margo Seibert (Cathy) and Zak Resnick (Jamie) are both appealing performers with strong voices.
Brown’s folk, jazz, and waltz-time songs are clever and eminently listenable; accompanied by a six-piece band of piano and strings (music direction by Matt Castle), Seibert and Resnick deliver them with considerable verve.
Seibert’s torchy “A Summer in Ohio” and Resnick’s impassioned “If I Didn’t Believe In You” are potent numbers, but the show’s high point comes in Seibert’s anxiety-laced meltdown at a theatrical audition.
Callie Floor’s costumes help to define where the characters are in the timeline.
Tim Mackabee’s set is an elegant creation of angular lines and moveable screens. Under Robert Wierzel’s soft, glowing lighting, set pieces glide on and off, and a giant ring of flowers hangs above the stage.
In Jamie and Cathy’s only duet – a romantic boat ride in Central Park, where he proposes – petals fall onto the lovers gently from above.
It’s a lovely moment – even though you know it can’t possibly last.
The Last Five Years
Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 5
Tickets: $20 to $105
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org