Songwriter Jason Robert Brown revisits tough times
This Wednesday, March 27, 2013 photo shows songwriter Jason Robert Brown at Second Stage Theatre, where a revival of his show "The Last Five Years" is playing, in New York. The song cycle debuted in New York in 2002 and, despite a short run, has become a staple in regional theaters and colleges. (AP Photo/Mark Kennedy)
NEW YORK (AP) — Inspiration can often come if you look up at the sky or the twinkling stars. For Jason Robert Brown, such a moment came when he was deep underground.
The songwriter was in the subway a dozen years ago on his way to a meeting at Lincoln Center with the fragment of an idea for his next project: It would be a song cycle about a husband and a wife in a troubled marriage.
But how would it work?
"As I was standing on that train platform, I thought, 'Oh, if she goes backward in time and he goes forward, then I always know what to write about because I'm always catching up,'" Brown recalls. "I'm not particularly mystical but it does feel sort of divinely imposed that I figured that all out on a subway platform."
The result was the 14-song show "The Last Five Years," and a lot of people think it is pretty divine. The show debuted in New York in 2002 and, despite a short run, has become a staple in regional theaters and colleges.
It follows the collapse of the five-year marriage between an aspiring novelist and a budding actress from both points of view. The husband starts by falling in love and his wife begins at the end of their relationship, their voices only intertwining in a few, bittersweet moments. It is a story about how the pressure of careers and ambition can crush young love.
The show is getting some new high-profile attention these days: Second Stage Theatre has revived "The Last Five Years" with Brown in the director's chair, and a movie version starts filming this summer with "Smash" star Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick from "Up in the Air."
That means revisiting a piece that has plenty of autobiographical elements for Brown, whose first marriage ended in divorce. Now 42, remarried and with two young daughters, he has a different perspective.
"There are a lot of layers to the way I experience the show at this point," he says. "I look at it now and I don't blame either of them. I just think, 'Jesus Christ, this was impossible. What did you expect was going to happen?'"
Brown was coming off a bumpy Broadway ride when he came up with "The Last Five Years." He had just seen his show "Parade," the true-life tale of a 1915 Georgia lynching, hit Broadway. It would earn him a Tony but close after just 85 performances.