• A man looking at camera

      Director Josh Shaw (Photo – Matthew Ian Welch)

      Director Josh Shaw discusses his lifelong passion for Sierra Madre Playhouse’s latest production, The Last Five Years. With its emotional depth and catchy musical numbers, the play promises a nostalgic journey in an intimate venue.

      By Jordan Lynn

      Josh Shaw shares his personal connection to the work, his creative vision, and hopes for what the audience will take away from this captivating experience.

      Jordan Lynn:

      You’re a really well-known director with a really diverse portfolio. How did you create this production of The Last Five Years for the Sierra Madre Playhouse?

      Josh Shaw:

      I approach it the same as I approach anything I direct. It always starts with the text. The advantage I’ve had is this musical has been in my head for 20 years. I approached it by thinking about how I want to tell the story. I’m very picture oriented as a director, so I always think about what the snapshots are, which also works really well in the show because we have all these vignettes and start working backwards from there.”

      Speaking of the story, I’ve heard that the narrative structure is very interesting because it’s told in reverse, but also in chronological order. So how did you navigate that complexity and storytelling?

      When you’re just listening to the soundtrack, you don’t think about how it would work on stage. For a simple two-person story, the timeline gets pretty complicated and you’re like, wait, did that happen before this scene, or after?

      Even in rehearsal we’ll catch ourselves. We’ll be, wait a second. Did she already say that? Was that scene before this? It’s very interesting but it is a little confusing. So we put it down on paper, in the order that we think it goes in. It’s not a hundred percent clear on a few things, so we just made some decisions and are running with that.”

      This play is double casted, even though it’s a two person show. How do you make sure that each of the individuals is distinct, so they bring their own essence to the role.

      I thought, ‘As long as we cast this correctly, my job is going to be very easy as a director. It’s just two people up there the entire time.’  I’m very open to having two different shows.  I want to see who these actors really are through these characters, and they’re just different people. That’s the really fun part.  Then we have a couple shows where the Kathys and Jamies will mix because of scheduling. Those are going to be the ones that are really interesting to me.

      There are people who just absolutely love this musical. I’m one of them.  I would say, ‘Come see both casts because it’s going to be different!’”

      Live Piano or Orchestra

      A man smiling

      Josh Shaw (Photo – Matthew Ian Welch)

      I know this play is going to have its own mix of live piano and orchestra, depending on the day. How does that contribute to the overall feel of this musical?

      I would love to see it with the orchestra all the time, but, because of logistics, it’s going to be sometimes with piano and sometimes with orchestra. It’s a small orchestra in the original production. We had a lot of talk about where to put the orchestra. I just really pushed to have them on stage and visible. I think it adds to the experience. Doesn’t detract to see them up there doing their thing.”

      The next question is about the Playhouse itself. How did you decide your staging and set design, based on the Sierra Madre Playhouse?

      When I started rehearsal, I just thought ‘How cool is it gonna be to be so close to the audience!’ It’s just a different experience than going to a 500-seat auditorium and seeing this very intimate show. Design wise, we have some definite, scenic things.

      I wanted her apartment, his apartment, the pier. I thought about where those could work on stage and what those spaces could later become in other scenes. So we end up with her apartment way downstage, right, in front of the proscenium, and his way down, left, in front of the proscenium.”

      Can you share one memorable moment or challenge you faced while having the rehearsals with the actors?

      A memorable experience was when the guys did the schmuel song the other day. It was just so much more energetic and active than I had pictured it or from hearing it for years. It’s a very clever song, but it’s like seven minutes long. Both of those guys just jumped up there and knocked it out of the park! So much effort had clearly gone into thinking through this seven minute song and every beat they were going to hit. It was just very impressive.”

      As the director, what do you hope the audience takes away from this production?

      I hope it brings up some nostalgia for some people, good and bad, about current or past relationships. I do hope they leave, humming the tunes.  They’re very catchy.  I want people to come and just have a good time and just block out the rest of the world for an hour and a half and enjoy. Live theater and people putting themselves out there and giving you giving a great show.”

      > The Last Five Years, by Jason Robert Brown, through June 16, 2024, Sierra Madre Playhouse.


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