The stars aligned at the Star Palace opening night for Ashley Taylor and, by extension, the strong inaugural production of the Organic Theater Factory.
For years, the hard-working Taylor has tackled one character role after another on the Fresno community theater scene -- from Mary Sunshine in "Chicago" to Gertrude the Bird in "Seussical" -- as a solid performer. But something special happens in Jason Robert Brown's intimate musical "The Last 5 Years," which closes tonight. As Cathy Hiatt, the struggling actress whose story of a disillusioned marriage is told in reverse chronological disorder, Taylor gives a translucent performance. Her voice is absolutely gorgeous -- there were times when I closed my eyes and thought about how often it matched the level of Sherie Rene Scott's version on the original cast recording.
Just as impressive is the way Taylor mines the emotional territory of her character, never overplaying the sentiment or joking up the giddy moments, always relating on a fiercely human level.
My singling Taylor out for special notice isn't in any way meant to slight her partner on stage, Peter Allwine, or the production overall, which has a scrappy, low-key charm. It's just that when it comes to Taylor, it seems this is one of those rare times for an actor when everything truly clicks -- performance, type, spirit -- and it's a beautiful thing to behold.
"The Last 5 Years" is tough to pull off because there's practically no interaction between the two characters on stage at all. It has to be that way because of the dizzying way that Brown intertwines their chronologies. While Cathy's story goes backward, beginning with the breakup of her marriage, that of hot, young novelist Jamie goes forward, with him starting head over heels in love.
Director Danielle Jorn has a knack for finding the emotional core of a song. But in some ways, the direction seems a little static. Jorn has a tendency to plant her actors on stage and let them stay there, almost in an opera-soloist stance.
Still, these are quibbles in a particularly fine show. When Taylor sings "Part of That," it's touching. This is theater that is small in scale but enormous in impact.