The musical, filmed during the pandemic in a New York apartment, finished its critically acclaimed run on May 9.
Nasia Thomas ’15 had recently finished her contract on Broadway’s “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” and was in rehearsals for her first principal Broadway role in “Caroline, or Change” when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Just one day before the first preview of “Caroline, or Change,” Broadway shut down and an entire industry was forced to either close or reimagine any future productions in a digital space.
Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last 5 Years,” produced by Out of the Box Theatrics and Holmdel Theatre Company, was one such reimagined production. Thomas starred as Cathy, a struggling actress, married to author Jamie, portrayed by Nicholas Edwards. The two enact the stories of their relationship separately, in opposite chronological order.
While early press releases indicated the production was to be filmed at the Holmdel Theatre Company and then streamed, the production was transformed into a site-specific, immersive production filmed entirely in a New York City apartment. The production rehearsed and filmed under intense COVID-19 safety protocols, including regular testing, physical distancing of the crew and having performers masked whenever not singing.
Thomas was no stranger to the stage but was new to the filming experience. “For pretty much everyone in the room, it was all of our first time doing anything like this so everything was a discovery… coming from music theater where everything is BIG and FLASHY, converting that energy into film and TV energy was an entire ride,” she said. “We learned so much and we are all the better for it.”
“The Last 5 Years” was originally scheduled to run from March 15 to 28, but its immense popularity warranted an extended “run” through May 9. The production received rave reviews from a number of outlets, and was labeled as a New York Times Critic’s Pick.
Terry Teachout, longtime theatre critic for the Wall Street Journal, called Thomas “a real find” who gave a “powerfully committed, gorgeously sung performanc[e].” “The Last 5 Years” received a Drama League nomination for Outstanding Digital Theater, Individual Production.
“I think when you do projects like this all you want to do is serve the art, and it’s always a surprise when you get top-level recognition for it,” Thomas said. “At the end of the day we don’t perform for the awards and the ‘hype,’ we do it for the love of the craft, and because we have fun. The [Drama League] nomination just sent us over the top.”
Thomas also worked with Out of the Box Theatrics to provide donated tickets to art students who needed financial assistance. “It’s super important to me to inspire the next generation, to lift up the ones who are coming behind us,” Thomas said. “We all remember what it was like for someone we have looked up to, to reach out their hand to us so that we can continue to dream. We all know the impact that had. We must continue to pay it forward.”
After the whirlwind process of producing theatre for film and TV, Thomas is looking forward to her return to the stage. This fall, as theatres begin to reopen, be on the lookout for Thomas as Radio 1 in the Broadway revival of “Caroline, or Change.”