So many of our theaters have knocked themselves out trying to entertain audiences while COVID-19 dominates the ring and pushes everyone too close to the proverbial ropes. ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) located in Ridgefield decided to do a full run of a musical. Not only did this theater go through the process of getting its Equity Union’s permission to do the musical live in their theater as well as live streaming, but it also went through the process of following all the guidelines for the State of Connecticut regarding safety precautions in the coronavirus pandemic. The results are quite wonderful. They got a standing ovation from the live audience.
Artistic director Daniel C. Levine with executive director Katie Diamond and music supervisor Bryan Perri realized that amongst them they had enough talent to do a complete run of “The Last Five Years” by Jason Robert Brown. Mind you these artists have credits that are so extensive they could fill this entire column. Just know that Diamond is a singer, actor, writer and producer and appeared on Broadway in “Jersey Boys.” Levine has been in many Broadway and Broadway National Tours, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Play by The League of American Theaters and Producers. As for Perri, he is the music director and conductor for Broadway’s “Jagged Little Pill” and has been music director for Broadway’s “Wicked” and the new musical “Chaplin.
Once they decided that they would do the show and got permission, they focused on not only meeting all the safety guidelines, but went beyond meeting the requirements. What worked so well is that this trifecta of theater artists agreed to essentially meet only with each other. They were tested for the coronavirus and kept a safe distance away from others. Just selecting this show was brilliant. First of all, it is a two-actor play. Secondly, young people have always gravitated towards this show and they still do. I asked my young theater major neighbor why she thought young people liked it so much and she went on and on about the music, the lyrics and the honesty of the show. It is far more likely that young people will return to live theater before a more mature audience ventures out in big numbers. So selecting this play was quite smart.
As fate would have it, my neighbor and her daughter attended ACT’s production. The mother raved about the safety precautions that were so apparent and the college student raved about the production. The mom said that safety exceeded her expectations. She also pointed out that from the theatre’s first promotion of the show to arriving at the theater safety was apparent. Their temperatures were taken once their names were verified for tickets and everything was thoroughly sanitized. Thanks to the pre-show seating chart, no one was next to them, directly in front of them, or right behind them. The theater limited attendance to 50 people, even though they could have had more.
“The Last Five Years” is an unusual musical regarding structure. Having seen the show many times, I always thought that it was a little contrived with one character moving from the beginning to the end of their relationship while the other moves from the end to the beginning. However, this ACT team performed so well, that you push aside any shortcomings of the play and focus on the beautiful vocals and strong emotional connections between Diamond and Levine. Perri’s music was strong enough that no other accompaniment was necessary.
I opted for the live streamed production, and it was terrific. The sound and camera were spot on. There’s only one week left. Get a ticket and know the theater is alive and reopening. “The Last Five Years” plays through Nov. 15. Box office: 475-215-5497.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founder of the CT Critics Circle and an active member in the American Critics Association.