Students Carolyn Agan of Westfield High and Garry McLinn of Lake Braddock Secondary School are producing and starring in a two-person musical, "The Last Five Years."
It'll be presented Thursday-Friday, March 17-18, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 20, at 2 p.m., at the Fairfax Academy's black-box theater, 3500 Old Lee Hwy. in Fairfax.
ADDITIONAL SHOWS will be held Friday-Saturday, March 25-26, at 8 p.m. in the Wadell Theater at NOVA Loudoun. Seating is limited, but tickets may be reserved by calling 703-407-9231. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.
Both Agan and McLinn are seniors and attend the Fairfax Academy of Musical Entertainers for musical theater. And at the beginning of the school year, Agan asked the theater director there if she and another person could put on this show.
"He said, 'OK, as long as you produce it and raise the funds for it," said Agan, 17. "So it's my senior project. I love this show, and I thought it would be a cool experience to do a two-person musical. The music is phenomenal and the story is very compelling."
"The Last Five Years" is about the marriage of Jamie, a writer, and Catherine, an actress. But it unfolds in a unique way. Her side of the story is told from the end to the beginning, and his is told from beginning to end.
"They only meet in the middle at their wedding," said Agan. So for most of the play, she and McLinn act separately on stage. "It's pretty difficult, but a lot of fun," she said. "And it's definitely a challenge since it's written for people twice our age."
She said Catherine's led by her emotions and is fickle. "At the end, Jamie's left her, and she's upset about that," said Agan. "But as you go backward, you find that the marriage she had with Jamie isn't the one she wanted. She's a very independent person, but she'd ended up being the one in the background."
But Agan said it's wonderful playing her "because of the range of emotions she goes through." And because there are only four spoken lines in the whole show — and everything else is sung — it's vocally demanding. So, said Agan, "It takes a lot out of you."
She and McLinn started rehearsing, the beginning of January, at the Fairfax Academy. They put in about nine hours a week — three hours, three times a week. Another Westfield student, Helen Lynn, is the stage manager and created the set.
THE SHOW also features a full band — a professional accompaniest on piano, plus two cellists and musicians playing violin, bass and guitar. "And a wonderful director and vocal director have helped us, too," said Agan. "They're really great." The director is Natalie Safley, drama teacher at NOVA's Loudoun campus; vocal director is Sharon Baldwin, a local voice teacher who also assists at Madison High.
However, Agan offers a warning about the show. "It's definitely for mature audiences only because there are quite a few curse words in it," she said. "But it's an emotionally attaching piece and I think the audience will really like it."
McLinn, 17 1/2, describes his character, Jamie, as a young, Jewish novelist. The story details his life from ages 23-28 and, said McLinn, "He gets success — what he always dreamed of — very quickly."
Catherine's story ends at their first date, but Jamie's story begins there and ends with their divorce. "They only sing together once, in the middle of the show, at their wedding," said McLinn. "It's more about their relationship and their inability to make it work."
He said Jamie has many sides to him. "He can be sweet, compassionate and funny," explained McLinn. "Other times, he can be self-centered and a real jerk — which is one of the things leading to their divorce."
Agan called the musical both a comedy and a drama. Agreeing, McLinn said it's both "hilarious and crushingly sad, at the same time." And he loves his role. He enjoys singing the songs and, he said, "Trying to capture these people's idiosyncrasies is really fun. And the characters are very real because their story could happen to anyone."
McLinn said the toughest part of being in a two-person show is that "most of the scenes involve just me or just Carolyn, so it's more of a challenge to convey what's happening to the audience. But our director is good at making that happen."
AGAN SAID the most difficult thing for her is making sure "not to blow out my voice" because she really has to belt out her musical numbers. But she thinks it's neat that some of the songs are goofy and funny. And she especially likes the audition sequence: "It shows the actor's inner monologue at an audition — and it's so true."
McLinn's a fan of the musical's author, Jason Roberts Brown. "His music is so good that it plays itself," he said. "My favorite song in the show is 'If I Didn't Believe in You,' which I sing at the end. It's really sad, but pretty."
He believes everyone seeing the production "will feel like they've seen a great work of art. It's really well done, the way Brown wove these two lives together and showed how they fell apart."
"It's amazing — no one thought we'd actually be able to do it," said Agan. "But it's easier to schedule rehearsals with just two people, and we're such good friends." Added McLinn: "It's been one of the most rewarding theatrical experiences I've ever had — something to look back on and be proud of."