WCHS Seniors produce “The Last Five Years”


Photo Courtesy of Ian Rubin

Seniors Ian Rubin and Elyssa Shenker took the stage on the evening of April 14 to perform their senior showcase, “The Last Five Years.” While both actors were on stage for the majority of the show, they only directly interacted with one another during one song.

By Caitlin Murphy, Copy Editor

As the lights dimmed in the WCHS auditorium, the audience’s voices hushed as they waited with bated breaths for the show to begin. Spotlights illuminated the dark stage and the orchestra played their first notes as seniors Ian Rubin and Elyssa Shenker took the WCHS stage for the last time.

On Friday, April 14, WCHS seniors performed their senior showcase, “The Last Five Years.” This performance was entirely student-run and produced with a small cast of seniors who wanted to perform on the WCHS stage one last time. The project was spearheaded by Rubin, who was inspired to produce the musical independently of the WCHS arts department.

“Being surrounded by such passionate and talented seniors gave me the confidence to pursue this project,” Rubin, who has had numerous starring roles in WCHS plays and musicals, said. “The role of the WCHS drama department is to give all students opportunities, so doing heavy, small cast shows like ‘The Last Five Years’ are not very feasible for the large department.”

“The Last Five Years” follows the five-year relationship between Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress, and Jamie Wellerstein, an up-and-coming writer. The show’s structure is unique as Jamie’s story is told in chronological order starting shortly after they first met, while Cathy tells her side of the story in reverse chronological order, starting the show with the conclusion of their relationship. The only direct interaction between the two characters comes in the middle of the show when their stories overlap during Jamie’s proposal to Cathy.

“‘The Last Five Years’ is beautifully written by Jason Robert Brown,” Rubin said. “My favorite part of the show is the musical motifs and theory of the show — since Cathy moves backward in time while Jamie moves forward, there are repeated musical ideas that are common among their separate timelines.”

The small cast size and high level of talent made it possible for the seniors involved in the show to hold very few rehearsals when preparing for the show. Because of their experience, the performers were extremely focused and did not need a lot of instruction during rehearsals. They learned most of their individual parts before rehearsals and were clear about what needed to be done before, during and after each rehearsal.

“This project is so unique in that the show was collectively decided by the people who would be curating every aspect of the performance,” Shenker, who played Cathy, said. “With a team so small and each extremely seasoned in their respective crafts, we were able to execute this production with a clear vision while making new discoveries about the piece during the entire five-month rehearsal process.”

While the show was relatively easy to coordinate in the sense of rehearsals, that did not mean that the show was free of any challenges. Because the show was student-run, the seniors did not have experience with producing a show without significant staff assistance for the administrative side of holding a production.

“I think the most challenging piece of this production to coordinate was the financial aspect,” Shenker said. “We had to obtain the rights to perform our show and the funds to purchase these rights, as well as create a budget for all props, costumes and set pieces. We worked very closely with Mrs. Wellek, WCHS’s business administrator, to coordinate all of these things.”

The seniors’ hard work paid off when the lights dimmed and the show began. Rubin and Shenker shined on stage, performing like seasoned professionals. Shenker gave a heartbreaking performance during the opening number, “Still Hurting,” giving the audience chills as she beautifully portrayed Cathy’s devastation for the end of her relationship with Jamie. Rubin brilliantly portrayed Jamie and his charisma captured the audience’s attention the moment he stepped on stage. Rubin’s performance of “The Schmuel Song” was a masterclass on storytelling as an actor, and he entertained the audience throughout the entire number.

The show was directed by senior Diego Gutierrez, who is planning on studying film at DePaul University. The directing of the show was beautifully done, with subtle and purposeful choices that emphasized the connection between the actors, even when they were not directly interacting on stage. Every use of props added to the storyline and contributed to the performance of the actors. The orchestra was on stage with the actors and intricately wove the story together to convey the fluctuating emotions of the characters throughout the show.

“Each person involved in this performance, from tech, to the actors, to the orchestra and to the creative team, was extremely devoted to this process and had an ambitious vision for this show,” Shenker said. “Each team member had to work together to portray a cohesive story — one that we all took great joy in getting to create and interpret together. A strong sense of community isn’t unique to our show, but it was extra special to get to do work that I’m very proud of alongside some of my closest friends for my final production at WCHS.”

Because “The Last Five Years” was produced independently of the WCHS arts department, the question arose of where to donate the proceeds raised from the show. The seniors in the show landed on The Fund for College Auditions (TFCA), which is a non-profit organization that covers audition-related expenses including coaching, flights and equipment for high school students with limited resources who are auditioning for collegiate performing arts programs.

“While in the rehearsal process for our show, Ian and I were both auditioning for college musical theater programs,” Shenker said. “We understand that the audition process is wildly costly, and we have many incredibly talented friends who, without programs like TFCA, would not have been able to audition for college performing arts programs. The arts are often highly inaccessible; our team believes that every person should have the opportunity to pursue what they love, regardless of their financial situation, which is why we decided to donate to TFCA.”

In the future, many of the seniors in the show intend to pursue the arts in college and beyond. Even if they are not planning on getting a degree in the arts, most will continue to stay involved outside of the classroom. The senior showcase gave the WCHS community the chance to watch this year’s seniors perform for the last time on the WCHS stage before they continue what are sure to be very successful careers in the arts.

“I think my favorite thing about musical theater is making a difference in the world,” Rubin, who will study musical theater at the University of Michigan, said. “Art is so powerful and can truly change people’s minds and the way they view the world. I want to inspire the next generation to make political and social change, but also to be kind to one another; I truly believe musical theater has the power to make that change.”