Review: Heartbreaking Nikki Gil wows in 'Last 5 Years'
MANILA – Although actress-singer Nikki Gil has been getting good notices for her dramatic turns on TV, it has become obvious that her star shines brightest on the musical theater stage. And as Cathy Hyatt, the struggling actress in a crumbling marriage in “The Last Five Years,” Gil gives her best performance to date as a theater performer.
During the musical’s preview on Friday night at the RCBC Plaza in Makati, co-star Joaquin Valdes gave Gil a high-five as they exited the stage after curtain call. Even without the rapturous applause, they knew they nailed the 2002 Off-Broadway musical, which officially opens at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium on Saturday night.
The two-character sung-through musical, which runs for 90 minutes without intermission, is known for its melodic yet demanding score, which the two stars were able to perform convincingly. Gil, who started as a pop singer, has a pleasant yet precise tone and she sings with such clarity that is so essential in a very lyrical musical. Valdes has a rougher edge to his powerful voice and he makes full use of his acting skills as most of his solos tend to be more character songs instead of ballads.
“The Last Five Years” is structured more like a concert with the two characters alternating with their solos and who only meet up halfway through the show. This is because of the musical’s main gimmick: Cathy’s story is told backwards after her husband Jamie leaves their marriage, while Jamie’s story proceeds chronologically, starting from when he first meets – and falls in love with – Cathy. It is only during the proposal and wedding (“The Next 10 Minutes”) that the two characters are together in the same time and space.
As such, the musical opens on a tearful note, with Gil crying even before she sings a single note (“Still Hurting”). “The Last Five Years” closes with a downbeat ending even if we see a hopeful Cathy at the start of what we know will be a doomed relationship.
Gil was able to clearly delineate the changes in her character from devastated wife, lifting the pain slowly, until Cathy’s back to a giddy woman who finds love. Valdes, on the other hand, gave enough hints even early on about his Jamie’s asshole tendencies.
For this couple, the trouble started when Jamie’s career as a writer takes off, just as her Broadway dreams are not getting anywhere. This divide became even more apparent when she’s stuck doing summer theater in the suburbs of Ohio, while he has become the center of attention in the publishing world – and to numerous women.
“I will not fail so you can be comfortable,” Jamie tells her. “I will not lose because you can’t win.”
Director Robbie Guevara admits that “The Last Five Years” isn’t very commercial, which makes it an odd choice to celebrate the first five years of 9 Works Theatrical, whose previous productions have been generally fun and upbeat (“Grease,” “The Wedding Singer”).
Even in terms of treatment, Guevara and his production team opted for a very stylized staging. Set designer Mio Infante created a series of white frames and a sloped center riser to visualize the time-space continuum with only a bed, a few chairs and tables as props. Video projections by GA Fallarme are also used, not just to set scenes, but also as visual reminders for what Guevara envisioned as a “memory play.”
But while “memory” usually connotes warmth and fuzzy, the modern and sleek look here feels -- perhaps purposely – cold. It’s a risky, cynical move for 9 Works after five years of feel-good Broadway fare.
“The Last Five Years” is not just 9 Works’ most mature production to date, it is also very polished. The orchestration and musical direction has never been better and when those violins start to swell, it’s difficult not to be swept by Brown’s gorgeous compositions and sung with so much emotion by Gil and Valdes.
Heartache has never sounded this good.
“The Last Five Years” opens on Saturday at the Carlos P. Auditorium of RCBC Plaza, Makati City. It runs weekends until August 31.