BY CARY GINELL
Veronica Dunne and Austin Miller, who will be performing in the two-person musical The Last Five Years for YAE4Ever beginning June 13, are two of a kind. Both are versatile performers, confident, talented, and already with a long list of credits on their resumes. Although they are both just 19 years old, already there are portents of things to come for these two bright, gifted performers. It might be too early to compare them to Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, the so-called “first family of the American theater,” but you never know. I sat down with them to talk about The Last Five Years as well as their working relationship with one another. The results are revealed in this first of a three-part series.
The Last Five Years is the story of the five-year relationship between Jamie and Cathy, a conventional story of a marriage and breakup that is presented in an unconventional way. Written by Jason Robert Brown (13, The Bridges of Madison County), the story is structured so that Jamie’s story is told in chronological order but Cathy’s is in reverse. The characters interact with each other only when their timelines converge halfway through the story, when they get married.
VCOS: Have you two performed together before?
VERONICA: Yes, several times.
AUSTIN: Let’s see, we were in Chicago together with Young Artists Ensemble and before that we did Sweeney Todd, that was our first show together. How many years ago was that?
VERONICA: About four years ago.
VCOS: So by now are you used to working with each other?
VERONICA: Oh yeah. And even in Sweeney, we had a very close cast. Whenever you do a Young Artists Ensemble show, you get extremely close, but we definitely connected. Then we did Urinetown together and that’s when we really connected because we both kind of found our passion for The Last Five Years when Urinetown was going on.
AUSTIN: That’s the first show that I did with YAE4Ever.
VERONICA: I think that was the first show that YAE4Ever did, period. We realized we both loved The Last Five Years in the parking lot of the Hillcrest Center and proceeded to perform the whole show outside of my car, blasting the music through my speakers for whoever happened to walk by. And there were multiple children walking by and they were just so freaked out! Then we hung out at my house with Evan Smith, who was Officer Lockstock in Urinetown. He had never seen Last Five Years. So we asked if we could do it for him, literally in my room, and we fully did the whole show.
AUSTIN: You can put the CD on and hear the whole show. There’s little bits of dialog in between the songs, but other than maybe two or three spots, it’s all singing.
VCOS: So was it your idea to do this show for YAE4Ever or did you audition for it?
VERONICA: No, we put this whole thing together ourselves.
AUSTIN: Veronica actually asked me if I’d be interested and I said, “Are you kidding me?” And then we just started getting to work. We talked to Scott Buchanan and he was very interested in helping us put it on and now we’re doing it.
VERONICA: It’s a project that we pretty much put together on our own. We got all of our costumes, all of our sets, our props…we have a lot of help from a good amount of people, like Mark Reyes, who will come and give his input; Scott is helping us get a full orchestra.
AUSTIN: We didn’t want to put on a show without some outside perspectives so we’re having a couple different people come in so we can get their criticism and direction.
VCOS: How do your personalities reflect those of Jamie and Cathy?
VERONICA: Well, first of all, Cathy is a performer who does musical theater, so I especially connect with her. There’s a huge portion of the show where she’s auditioning for summer stock, so I connect with that process, but as far as her relationship with Jamie, I think she’s kind of a hopeless romantic and wants everything to work, but it’s very difficult following in someone’s footsteps like that. But I think a lot of her mannerisms, even just the way the songs are written for her and the way she speaks, I feel like I kind of have the same inflections and the same sense of humor as she does. Obviously, there are some differences, the biggest one being age, but there are a lot of similarities, especially when it comes to her passion in life, her passion for Jamie, and her passion for passionate people (laughs). And I have that too. I find myself being attracted to people who are motivated and moving forward and I think that’s a huge part of why she loves Jamie.
AUSTIN: With Jamie, I think there’s more that contrasts with Jamie and me than there is aligned. Although we are both passionate about what we do, I act and he is an author. He is very passionate about his writing and that’s probably what attracts Cathy. But he’s also very impulsive and he’s easily bored, which drives him batty and that creates a lot of conflict with Cathy. He’s very driven to a fault.
VCOS: So he’s self-centered like many authors?
AUSTIN: Absolutely. He’s confident, but I think that he knows that he is talented at what he does. He may not be overconfident, but he is overly expressive of his confidence. He knows Cathy’s feelings about everything and knows what she’s thinking but he considers his opinion more valid.
VCOS: This show resembles Merrily We Roll Along because of the backwards chronology in Cathy’s half of the story. What struck me is that, in the course of a show, most characters exhibit an element of growth. But you’re growing in reverse, Veronica, so how do you handle that?
VERONICA: It’s funny you say that. I am growing in reverse, but in some ways, my love for Jamie is growing more throughout the show. It’s difficult, but I think I know the show like the back of my hand now and I’ve kind of looked at the songs for Cathy in chronological order as though she is not going in reverse, so that helped definitely. It’s just a new way of taking on a show but I think Jason Robert Brown makes very clear distinctions of where they are in that time, so when I stop onto the stage I know exactly where I am in the relationship. I think that’s a testament to his writing, and as an actor, it’s not that much of a struggle. So it seems pretty natural to me.
AUSTIN: There may be a lot of things that a lazy audience member would miss, but it’s fun as actors, getting to dissect the show, match up different songs…
VERONICA: Yes, we’ve put a lot of clues in the show that we’ve kind of come up with. I don’t want to give it away, but things like props suddenly become significant later. But if you’re sitting in the audience and you’re fully present and paying attention, there are going to be a lot of “a-ha” moments.
Our interview with Veronica and Austin will continue next week. The First Five Years plays at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts beginning June 13. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.