There are dreams, and there are “Are you kidding? Don’t be ridiculous!” dreams. This was one of those. They told me I was nuts. Okay, maybe a little. They called me unrealistic. Heard that before. They applauded my pluck and smiled wryly as they patted my shoulder with sympathetic but reserved enthusiasm.
But Friday night, August 3 at 8 p.m. the curtain will rise on my long-held dream. The emotionally profound and musically complex gem of a show The Last Five Years by composer Jason Robert Brown will play – for one night only! – in that little jewel box of a space, the historic John Drew Theater.
From the first moment I stepped into East Hampton’s Guild Hall I wanted to put on a show there. It is an intimate space and this is an intimate show. It’s about two hip New Yorkers and their love for each other. They are smart and savvy. So is the audience. No, I am not pandering – this is a musical with interesting ideas. The characters sing about curious people like “the gay midget named Karl, playing Tevya and Porgy” and having Sabbath “dinners on Friday nights with every Shapiro in Washington Heights.” They sing about their love and their angst.
“Cathy,” wonders why she “tends to follow in his stride, instead of side by side,” while “Jamie,” a budding novelist knows “It’s not a problem, it’s just a challenge.” I can identify with that line. It’s how I feel about getting this show made.
As a longtime drama teacher from New Jersey, I have loved my summer months in the Hamptons, soaking up sun and good theatre at Bay Street, Guild Hall, Hampton Theater Company and Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. But while basking on the beach, I had dreams of making theatre with big-league talent. It’s not that I didn’t love my high school students, but after each show there would be the lingering disappointment, the “what if’s.” “What if that girl could have reached the high E?” “What if I put in all these hours of work and the final product actually sounded like a cast recording?” Now that would be cool.
But getting to Guild Hall was not easy. My little company is a tiny operation (my daughter, Bailie, and myself) with an equally tiny budget, and Guild Hall is a pricey commitment. I think I made Artistic Director Josh Gladstone crazy as I pursued him all year for an open night that might be affordable. When August 3 opened up, I wrote the check.
Securing the rights to the show also presented a challenge. Brown is known for being discriminating about licensing. Perhaps because he attended – and hopefully liked – my NYC production of his show Songs for a New World in 2008, he said yes. Whew! (Brown is currently teaching a course in Musical Theater at the Southampton Writers Conference.)
With the songs from the show held in high esteem among Broadway performers who often use them as audition pieces, I knew there were actors willing to make the shlep to the East End. Finding two who were available for my limited budget was another thing. Through a friend of Bailie’s, we heard that Julie Reiber was just finishing her starring run on Broadway in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and loved the music. (Julie has played Elphaba in Wicked over 100 times!)
And I really wanted Matt DeAngelis for the male lead, since I had been watching him perform off- Broadway since he first came to New York and had cast him as a lead player in Songs For A New World, but Matt was big-time now: HAIR! On Broadway and in London, followed by the American Idiot tour. But he, too, loved this music. “I’m your guy” he texted me late one night.
It’s a dream cast for a long-held dream of a show. As “Jamie” sings to “Cathy:” “Take a breath, take a step, take a chance… take your time.” I have taken my chance. I think my time has come.
The Last Five Years is the 2002 Drama Desk winner for music and lyrics. Friday, August 3, 8 p.m., Guild Hall, East
Hampton. Tickets available through Facebook: The Last Five Years Guild Hall 2012.