The Next Thing You Know. Book by Ryan Cunningham, Music & Lyrics by Joshua Salzman. The Eagle Garden Theatre, Vauxhall, London. 23 – 31 23 October 2020. 3***. William Russell.

Deft direction by Robert McWhirr and a young cast of four fresh out of drama school – Amalia Atherton, Bessie Ewa, Calum Henderson and Nathan Shaw – take this old banger of an off Broadway musical which is showing its years and turn it into a remarkably road worthy vehicle. It is one of those stories beloved of Anerican writers about late twenty somethings facing up with having to grow up set around a handy New York bar – think Cheers, think Central Perk. The trouble is that in spite of some jaunty tunes, decent lyrics, the book is sloppily constructed – it may last about 90 minutes with a brief interval, but the first act is overlong and one has started to tire of dilemmas which really don’t matter all that much long before that interval arrives.
Waverley (Bessie Ewa) works in a bar nights and in a legal office days. She is an actress, but the law firm are offering her a permanent job. What us she to do? Her boyfriend Darren (Nathan Shaw) is a would be writer who works in the same office as Luke (Calum Henderson), a would be man about town who beds all the girls. Lisa (Amelia Atherton) is a Lesbian who sings in the bar – actually she never does – and cannot make up her mond whether to leave New York and go to California or stay. In due course Waverley ditches Darren, collects Luke and treats him like he treats women and Lisa gets very drunk and they all live unhappily ever after. Were the players not so pleasant one really would feel totally disinterested in what happen to this cliched four. Friends the Musical it is not.
However McWhirr, who apparently staged it at the Landor some time ago, has directed it deftly and Musical Director Aaron Clingham and an uncredited guitarist give the score loads of energy. The show was done in 2019 at the Bridewell when it had an ensemble as well as the four principals which suggests there were customers in the bar where most of the action takes place. Just when it is happening is not quite clear – the show screams the day before yesterday at the very least, but masks are worn at times so presumably it is meant to be now. Not that it matters. Luke gets a nice number about the way to get a girl, there is a neat quartet to open act two after they all got terribly drunk about having a hangover and a neat gag in which the two men converse by lap top.
Stars are a menace.
It passes the time well enough, and if McWhirr has not turned it into a limousine class show he has made it into a second hand Ford which has just passed its MoT – and on the plus side there are the four young players relishing their chances, singing well, doing their best to make the cliche characters they are playing believable and, one hopes, attracting attention of those who might cast them in the future. Reviving old shows about American hopes and dreams is all very well but surely there are composers out there working on one about today’s hopeful British dreamers who could be given a showcase.

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