Shows about youth aren’t unusual, but a coming of middle age musical makes a nice change. Approaching their thirties, the characters in Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham’s piece want to be “less young” and are already hungover from their twenties…poor dears.
The hopes and fears, and a sense of surprise, about growing older that are presented are interesting enough. Cunningham’s book is clear. By accident or design, Next Thing You Know ends up the story of Waverly, a strong role for Bessy Ewa, a young woman deciding on her love life and whether to carry on trying to become an actor. If Waverley’s future decisions end contrary to expectations the piece is entertaining and amusing along the way.
Based around a bar on Sullivan Street, New York, Waverly’s friend Lisa provides a stand-out role for Amelia Atherton (who also gets the best songs). You could watch both women for a long time. Indeed, it’s odd we don’t get to see Lisa, a singer-songwriter, perform something she has written. But the men hanging around them are less appealing. Waverly’s wet boyfriend, who Nathan Shaw gets great comedy from, generates a little sympathy. But his salesman colleague has some oddly dated sexual politics – “shallow and sleazy” – that Callum Henderson’s best efforts cannot redeem. I’m not sure Waverly would really have much time for either man.
Rather sweetly, director Robert McWhir’s production has the super idea of casting graduates from 2020. A welcome move in a year so difficult for young performers, the whole cast are hungry to impress. They’ve clearly learned much from their training and McWhir’s evident skills.
The singing is good and serves Salzman’s credible music and lyrics well. In the mould of Jason Robert Brown, it would be nice to hear a richer sounding version of the score with more than a pianist and guitarist performing. There are fine tunes, but the lyrics sometimes make both comedy and sentiment effortful. More than once, lower stakes produce better results: a meditation on city life and a song about a one-night stand are highlights.
Problems come with the show’s specificity; are the characters (not performers) convincing 28 year olds? You might think them immature. If not, you may wonder what their problem is and find them whiney. Both positions are exacerbated by the commonality and repetition of concerns – there’s lots of talk about signs and decisions. Salzman and Cunningham like a motif a little too much.
As well as more variety, it’s disappointing that Next Thing You Know collapses into a standard romance. And one dealt with far too briefly at that. It might be quirky that its characters embrace being ordinary… but it isn’t that inspiring! The solution seems clear enough – strengthen the suggestion that Lisa is pursuing her dream and develop the role as a foil. Just a little more work would have given the show a lot more weight.
Until 31 October 2020
Photos by NatLPho