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Lost Love, Hope for Future Love Explored in Carnegie's "Last Five Years"

Boy meets girl, boy gets girl – and then what?

People recognize the story of the relationship that is sung in detail in modern musical The Last Five Years, playing April 9-24 at The Carnegie.

Composer Jason Robert Brown creates a complete original in this two-person musical, about a contemporary relationship that’s easy to recognize. Jamie (Wes Carman) and Cathy (Leslie Kelly) meet, fall in love, life gets messy with careers and all sorts of things. They break up.

The Last Five Years gets to the heart of it all by letting them sing their story from their very different viewpoints. Jamie tells their love story from the beginning of their romance to the end. Cathy starts at the end and goes back to the beginning.

Their storytelling overlaps for just a moment, on the day of their wedding.

“It’s about lost love, hope for future love, mourning the loss of someone, being excited about what could be,” says director Lindsey Mercer, who’s been a young theatre artist to watch since she arrived here in fall 2013.

The show, she says, “is emotionally intense – and universal. It’s an experience we’ve all had.”

Mercer’s energy seems to be indefatigable – she’s been making her mark on the area’s indie theater scene since moving here after graduating from Baldwin-Wallace College (outside Cleveland).

“I’ve been ruthlessly networking my way around,” she says cheerfully.

Of course, networking only gets you so far. Fortunately Mercer backs it up with real talent in a dramatic range from classical to experimental.

Mercer’s local credits include directing for New Edgecliff, Falcon Theatre, and Cincinnati Fringe.

She started at Cincinnati Shakespeare by assisting on Henry IV and was an assistant director at Cincinnati Shakespeare and is now in her third season as resident assistant director, including helming the touring show A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

She credits her first Diogenes project, last summer’s Death and the Maiden, as being “a big turning point for me – it opened doors to other theaters.” Her most recent Diogenes project was the absorbing, chamber-sized revival of George Bernard Shaw’s epic Saint Joan earlier this year. (Never heard of ambitious and challenging Diogenes? Watch for the return of area favorites Michael Haney and Amy Warner with Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days in May at the Aronoff Center.)

Mercer calls making her Carnegie debut “kind of a dream.” Making her debut with the art form she loves, a musical she believes will become “part of the musical canon that will endure” and working with partner and musical director Erin McCamley – pretty close to as good as it gets.

She’s thrilled with her actors – Carman starred in Company at Carnegie last summer. “He’s really smart, dedicated, he’s in touch with his skills. He has a great voice and dramatic sensibility.”

And he plays the cello. Mercer had it in mind to have the performers accompany the songs, if she could find the right combination of talent.

Kelly, newly arrived from Tampa, “blew her audition out of the water,” Mercer says. “She’s strong vocally, she has great instincts and she’s a trained pianist.”

Enough to keep her busy? Not even close. Mercer is co-founder and artistic director of Queen City Queer Theatre Collective, which has been presenting (almost) monthly staged readings at Below Zero.

QCQTC has embarked on a new mission, “fostering emerging playwrights (and) bringing undiscussed topics to the forefront.” In June there will be a 10-day workshop of a musical song cycle The Anxiety Project.

The Last Five Years, April 9-24. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $28, students $21. 859-957-1940 and www.thecarnegie.com.

Written by Jacke Demaline, RCN Arts
Photo by Mikki Schaffner