Going into my interview with Broadway and budding film star, Jeremy Jordan, I thought I would be the geekiest guy in the room, hands down. Not only was a I huge fan of THE LAST FIVE YEARS, the stage musical turned film he was there to promote, but I had been a big fan of Jordan’s voice ever since I first heard him bust it out on the now defunct NBC series, Smash. When we started getting into THE LAST FIVE YEARS itself though, I realized quite quickly, I was about to get out geeked and badly.
“The cast album came out right when I started college and I went to college for theatre so we all geeked out over it endlessly. We sang all the songs and had jam sessions with The Last Five Years because we’re musical theatre nerds. We just loved it, loved every second of it.” It was pretty clear at this point that Jordan and I were on the exact same page.
Jordan, who rose to fame when he originating the lead role in Disney’s Newsies on Broadway, sat down to speak with me at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film had just had its world premiere the night before. Being the theatre trooper that he is, he flew in to catch the last ten minutes of the film, as well as the audience Q+A, after the curtain closed on the show he performed that afternoon (the new musical, Finding Neverland, based on the film of the same name.) He was thrilled to see the audience reaction and is still a little surprised he was a part of the film at all.
“I’ve known the entire piece by heart for years. So when I heard they were doing a movie, I naturally was like, I’m never going to get that. Then they said Anna Kendrick is in it and I thought again, I’m never going to get that; they’re going to hire some big name. They did a long search and I’m sure they looked at big names, but honestly it is really vocally challenging. So they had to find somebody who could sing it and they finally opened it up to us little peons in the theatre world,” Jordan quips, with a wink and a nod. Jordan was extremely jovial when we chatted and you could tell he was still soaking it all in. Regardless, he is a peon no more.
“I think Richard [Lagravenese, the director] finally came around and what unlocked it was that he recognized how much I loved the piece. We could share that together and really create something special.”
(Side note: The first thing Jordan and Kendrick did when they met to expedite their on screen chemistry? Get stinking drunk. Her idea, apparently.)
Speaking of vocal challenges, the vocals for THE LAST FIVE YEARS were almost entirely recorded live on set, with some exceptions (“You can’t really sing live in a convertible,” Jordan jokes). That said, Jordan wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Singing to a prerecorded track is the worst. One, you have to worry about lip syncing and getting it perfect, which is just a pain in the butt because then you’re not focusing on what you’re really saying. Two, especially with something like this, which is completely sung through, the scenes are told and the stories are all told through the songs, and every emotion and every nuance and beat is within the music. So to prerecord that after a few days of rehearsal, and being stuck with that one way that you did it, you have no options once you’re there filming it to really play and explore and find what it is. That’s the only way to do it. I mean, honestly, it’s the only way to do it.”
THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a very special experience. It tells the story of a five year relationship from both perspectives of those involved and it does so from beginning to end for him and end to beginning for her. The show, by Jason Robert Brown, who also served as the musical supervisor on the film, first debuted in 2001 in New York City and, though it never made it all the way to Broadway, it has developed an intense cult following and its devotees are both numerous and passionate. I was curious to know if this translated to any pressure for Jordan.
“We made the movie as fans ourselves so we made the movie that we thought people would really enjoy and get something new out of it,” Jordan explains of the approach behind the film. “It’s built to be a person singing solo on stage with nothing else there, alternating with the timelines and you only see them on stage together twice. To do that on film would be a little too abstract. So we wanted to explore how adding a listener would change the piece and how it would evolve it. On top of that, how can we put these musical settings in the real world and really explore where they could have been and how everything around them has affected these stories as well.”
This isn’t to say that there aren’t changes. As far as Jordan sees it, and I would have to agree, change is inevitable. “I think at the end of the day, we really made it for the fans so I hope that they can, I mean they have to expect that it’s going to be different than the theatrical experience; it has to be totally different in order to work anywhere that isn’t a stage.”
That said, if THE LAST FIVE YEARS can satisfy someone as geeky as Jordan is about it, then how could fans not be pleased?
“It is something that is so near and dear to people. People are so in love with it and so connected to it. That’s why we wanted to make a film of it. So that we could spread that love and connection that we as musical theatre nerds feel – I keep saying musical theatre nerds – but it speaks so strongly to the musical community that you just want other people to feel that and get on board with Jason’s brilliance.”
Musical theatre nerds everywhere can get on board with that brilliance when THE LAST FIVE YEARS opens in select cities on Friday, February 13 (also on demand).