by TAYLOR BRETHAUER & GABRIELLA DEPINHO, Editor-in-Chief & Web Editor
An independent study is often used to dive into one’s specialty area, whether it be a major, a minor or a topic of interest. For senior Gabi Herrera, her interest in theater has turned her independent study into an entire musical.
On May 3 and May 5, the Black Box Theater will be used to show Herrera’s first-of-its-kind production. The musical, “The Last Five Years,” is a simplistic two-person show that Herrera has always loved.
“In the cabaret, I sang a song called ‘I Can Do Better Than That’ which is from the show ‘The Last Five Years’. It’s a musical I’ve been very familiar with and always wanted to perform but you never get the chance to perform it because it’s a two person musical,” said Herrera.
“So after performing in the cabaret, I got a lot of positive feedback. The spring semester was coming around, I wasn’t planning on doing the musical, I didn’t really have anything lined up performance-wise and I wanted to do something that would summarize all of my performing experience and do something because I had grown so much as a performer.”
She approached Andrew Bauer, the director of performing arts, and said she wanted to have a final show, “a capstone of music” and just do a concert version of the show singing only the female lead’s songs. The independent study started there and then the project grew into an actual production of the show.
The Last Five Years was written and composed by Jason Robert Brown. Herrera’s production will exclude the monologues and only be a staging of the show’s songs.
Gabi Herrera will be graduating at the end of this semester with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering; she has also completed two minors in chemistry and mathematics. Though she did not complete the music minor, which is the program in which most students take the independent study with Bauer, she has always been involved with theater throughout her life and here at MC.
Herrera said, “I knew in my final year of college I wanted to do something with music academically and it didn’t have to be for the music minor but just for fun and to learn something new in the world of music.”
Over the course of her four years at Manhattan, Herrera has been involved with Players and Singers, being on the stage for three musicals and in the pit for this year’s production of “Into The Woods” on the flute.
Herrera originally considered taking the Beatles course but instead she decided to go for an independent study in vocal music and then this production slowly came together.
Bauer, who has worked with students on a number of independent studies, finds this one to be something special that MC has made possible.
“I think the unique thing is that we have available here the resources and the platform where you can come up with an idea for a show or a concert and really study it from an academic perspective and then have the applied side which is the performance,” said Bauer.
On the academic side of the performance, Herrera has done an in depth study of the music and performances of the show and has to finish a 10 page paper about the experience. From watching clips of the original production, to watching the 2014 movie version and every type of production in between and doing intense research on the show, Herrera has come to consider herself a master of the show.
“Usually when I do a show here, I just have to show up and do my part and someone’s taking care of the directing or the music and the advertising,” said Herrera, “Everything you see in this show, I’ve thought about and I’ve had to make it happen. I had to put the set together, I had to get someone to do the show with me, I had to study the show in depth to make sure the audience understands what’s happening.”
The Last Five Years is often a challenging show to stage and for audiences to follow because the two characters, Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein, are both narrating their relationship but are doing so in opposite chronological orders. Cathy starts at the end and goes to the beginning, where as Jamie starts at the beginning and goes to the end; their narratives meet up for only one song during their wedding scene.
The audience gets to see both character’s perspectives as they learn why and how their relationship falls apart.
Bauer said, “‘The Last Five Years’ really has a pretty wide audience among college age people. The subject matter is really interesting to them, they relate to [the story], they relate to the music.”
Joining Herrera in the production is Tommy Leo ‘18, a student who graduated from MC in the winter. Leo will play the role of Jamie Wellerstein.
“I was really excited when Gabi asked me to be part of the show because I’ve always wanted to do it. Like, I am a vocalist so I’ve always wanted to do an all-vocal, all-singing show. So when she asked me to, I said ‘absolutely I wanted to do this,’” said Leo.
Herrera has no intention for this performance to be her last one. Though she will be graduating and working as a chemical engineer for L’Oreal, she plans to continue performing in community theaters or volunteering to help with high school productions. Even her plans to work at L’Oreal are tied to her passion of performance.
“To me, I would love to work at L’Oreal and maybe start some philanthropy group where we donate back to local theater communities or high schools and teach younger girls and performers how to do their makeup for a show because when I was younger I just went to the store and had to figure it all out,” said Herrera, “I never want to lose this because performing has given me so much in life so I want to make sure I can support others who want to do performing too.”
While Gabi gears up for graduation, she is taking her time to enjoy the opportunity.
“I’ve always played younger characters and that’s always been very fun and something i’ve loved doing but as I’m starting to grow into my 20’s, I don’t want to play these child roles anymore, I want to start playing adults. This is really my first adult role i’ve ever gotten to play in theater,” said Herrera, “Andy [Bauer] was saying he was seeing me excel in acting in a way i’ve never acted before because this is a role I never got to play before.”
Without giving too much away about the performance, Bauer spoke highly of Herrera’s work on it.
“She’s done a great job of putting it together and she’s had a lot of room to try out a lot of ideas and i think the show has really come together,” said Bauer, “She’s really constructed a performance that’s very solid and i think the audience is really going to enjoy it.”
Leo is also looking forward to the performance.
“Honestly, I’m really excited to see how people react to it because it’s such an interesting show and we definitely put so much work into it. The music is incredible so I hope people like it,” said Leo.
Overall, Herrera is looking forward to this unique performance she has spent the entire semester putting together.
“I think this show is really amazing and it’s only an hour long. It’s not every day a student just gets to put on their own musical,” said Herrera.
Tickets for the performance can be reserved via the Snapcode that can be found on the show’s flyers for the 8 p.m. show on May 3 and the 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. shows on May 5.