Next Thing You Know
Garden Theatre, The Eagle London
Set around a dive bar in New York, Next Thing You Know is a new musical for the Friends generation, following the stories of four twenty-somethings at crossroads in their lives. As the TV sitcom’s theme song goes, they find their lives are always stuck in second gear as they face tough grown-up decisions about their careers and relationships.
Originally staged in the US in 2011, Next Thing You Know traces the ups and downs of everyday life rather than the more epic scope of classic musicals. Waverly works as a bartender, torn between pursuing her fading dreams of becoming an actor and taking a steady job in an office, while her boyfriend Darren is temping in between trying to carve out a career as a writer. Waverly’s best friend, Lisa, is doing casual gigs as a singer in bars while waiting to be swept off her feet by the woman of her dreams and whisked to LA. Into this mix comes Luke, a cocky playboy who resists falling in love and settling down. Matters come to a head for Waverly and, ominously, she decides to go “on a break” from Darren while she tries to work out what to do next.
Written by composer Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham, the story is full of charm and humour, with a string of lively songs to drive along the sharply written narrative. There are no big showstoppers but there are compelling melodies that linger in your brain, especially the title song, “Next Thing You Know”. Highlights include the very funny “Hungover” – probably the best and most insightful song written about the hell of hangovers. The show is accompanied by live music from the duo of musical director Aaron Clingham on keyboards and Ashley Blasse on guitar.
Directed by Robert McWhir, the ensemble cast are excellent, which is particularly impressive as they all graduated only this summer from drama school. Bessy Ewa is bright and likeable as Waverly alongside Callum Henderson and Nathan Shaw as the blokey Luke and the more ineptly blokey Darren. With particularly strong vocals, Amelia Atherton shines as Lisa, with some strong solos ranging from the wistful “Manhattan Bridge” to the jaunty “You Can’t Be Everything You Want”. The set has been designed by David Shields in what is arguably a site-specific space, transforming the Eagle’s existing outside bar counter into a dive bar in Lower Manhattan. Fully covered with heaters, the outdoors Garden Theatre makes you forget about the crazy lockdowned world outside – even when the rain starts to pour.
Running to 31 October 2020
Photos by Natalie Lomako