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Wicked's Katie Rose Clarke Trades in Her Magic Wand for a "Dream Score" in The Last Five Years

The Broadway veteran takes on Jason Robert Brown's musical two-hander at Long Wharf Theatre.

From making her Broadway debut straight out of college in Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza to starring as Glinda in Stephen Schwartz's cult phenomenon Wicked, Katie Rose Clarke has had her fair share of musical dream roles. She's moving on to her next addictive score at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, where she will soon be costarring opposite Adam Halpin as "shiksa goddess" Cathy Hyatt in Jason Robert Brown's infectious two-person musical The Last Five Years. For those unfamiliar with the show's unconventional structure, its two characters, Jamie and Cathy, travel through time in opposite directions, meeting onstage only once over the course of their five-year relationship. The Broadway alum took some time before rehearsal to speak with TheaterMania about taking on what she considers a "dream score." Clarke also spoke about her own personal journey with the show — a love affair that began years ago with just a cast album and a car stereo.

Katie Rose Clarke costars in Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years, directed by Gordon Edelstein, at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre.

Were you familiar with the music from The Last Five Years before you joined this production?
I was obsessed with it. I loved it for a long time. I had a friend who burned me a copy of the cast album in college. I was driving back and forth from home to school a lot at the time and I had it in the car on full blast, singing at the top of my voice. It's always been a dream score for me to one day get to sing, so I'm in heaven.

A lot of people seem to have similar reactions to the score. What was it for you that drew you so strongly to the music?
I had never heard a theater song crafted the way that Jason crafts these songs. I was so taken with the whole album. It was a new groundbreaking style for musical theater. When their stories intertwine in the song "The Next Ten Minutes," I just remember listening to that song over and over and over again trying to imagine how it would look onstage to do that piece. It made me a huge Jason fan and I have been ever since.

Have you ever seen the show onstage?
I never made it to see the show. I didn't see the original and I didn't see the revival either andI'm so glad that I didn't. I don't have any preconceived ideas of how the story is to be told. I find that to be more organic as far as crafting it myself and the process for me.

How have you gone about developing chemistry with a person with whom you rarely share the stage?
My Jamie is Adam Halpin and he's just a tremendous actor/singer and happens to be an incredibly great human being as well, so it was pretty easy from day one. As we started work on the piece [in rehearsal], as a group…we decided to go through the show chronologically so we could get a clear sense of the story. I think that really informed a lot of our relationship.

Clarke previously starred on Broadway as Glinda in Stephen Schwartz's Wicked and Clara in Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza.
(© Joan Marcus)

When people first see the show or listen to the album, it's common for them to pick a side in Cathy and Jamie's relationship. Did you ever lean one particular way?
I don't know. I think that's what's so exciting in this piece. It's a very undecorated, very real human relationship. This is a real relationship. This story is two human beings making choices, sometimes good and sometimes making a few mistakes. There's no way to pass judgment on them…The point is that they did love each other and they did try and that doesn't ever come back void when you do invest in another person that way.

From Adam Guettel to Stephen Schwartz and now Jason Robert Brown, you've had the chance to work with and sing the music of an impressive roster of composers. Are there any other composers on your wish list?
Oh my gosh, of course. I love singing new composers' material and getting to know new works like that. I have friends who are just so incredibly gifted and I have the gift of getting to do that quite a bit with them…Any of the people I have been able to sing, I would be glad to do that again. I've never done a Sondheim show and I would absolutely love to.

You've learned from your own career that a lot can happen in five years. Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I got married about a year and a half ago so I'm excited for what the next five years look like with him as my partner and just whatever doors open up for me, career-wise, family life, whatever else, I'm just excited. I don't have any designs on what I would want the future to be. I think things turn out the way they're supposed to turn out. Although I have to sometimes remind myself of that. [laughs]

Director Gordon Edelstein, costars Katie Rose Clarke and Adam Halpin, and musical director James Sampliner in the rehearsal room for The Last Five Years at Long Wharf Theatre.
(courtesy of Long Wharf Theatre)