Playing at the Landor Theatre, London until 8 June.
It’s not always easy to recognise whether you’ve got the right ingredients to make a musical work, but despite writers Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham’s best efforts to just write theatre music without a story, Next Thing You Know truly hits the spot with its universal themes resonating much further than the parameters of the venue.
Set in New York, Next Thing You Know follows the lives of four twentysomethings – Waverly, Darren, Lisa and Luke – and their preconceived notions about what their lives are going to be.
It’s not your typical West End or Broadway musical where you have a full ensemble of exuberant characters with everything getting tied up into a neat bow at the end, but behind the comic facade of this 90-minute theatrical journey, real issues are raised and some of life’s big questions are thrown out into the open. Does marrying a really nice guy mean you’re settling down or just settling? Does taking a nine-to-five job equal giving up or growing up?
With similar undertones, Next Thing You Know is somewhat reminiscent of the Broadway hit Avenue Q, but both have different qualities to offer.
Jennifer Potts plays a convincing Waverly, portraying her emotional ups and downs, which showcases her talent, while Amelia Cormack’s strong vocals make a lasting impression as lesbian nightclub singer Lisa.
Bart Edwards and Aaron Lee-Lambert also demonstrate their zest and flair throughout as Darren and Luke respectively, but the pair really come into their own when performing ‘The Way to Get a Girl’. The scene takes place in The Sullivan Street Tavern and both Darren and Luke are competing with each other about who is more successful with women. The familiarity of the awkward chat-up lines and macho behaviour is what drives the comedic value of the scene, which culminates with the pair breaking down the barriers between the audience and the stage, ‘chatting up’ front row ticket-holders and throwing their ‘numbers’ into the auditorium.
Performed at the Landor Theatre, the intimate venue allows for an element of interaction between the cast and the audience, and also creates a warm, welcoming environment. Despite being a compact venue, there is still enough room for a five-piece band which delivers a perfect score on every note under the direction of Michael Webborn.
The set (designed by Anna Michaels) is cleverly used to depict The Sullivan Street Tavern (with its large array of glass bottles), the offices of Creative 360, the different characters’ apartments and various locations around New York City with minimal scene changes.
Richard Lambert’s artistic use of lighting and special effects work well in the nightclub scenes where green hues and smoke atomisers are used, and the pink tones behind the clear glass bottles in the ‘morning after’ scene are a creative effect.
Next Thing You Know, from the writers of I Love You Because, also produced at the Landor and a previous winner of the Best Off-West End Production at the WhatsOnStage.com awards, is a truly great show (Robert McWhir directs), with a witty script, talented cast and memorable songs. I found myself chuckling and humming along to ‘Hungover From My 20s’ – if that isn’t testament to a quality evening, I don’t know what is.