Next Thing You Know takes the Broadway musical formula and applies it to four young people in New York who realize they aren’t getting younger. The show’s creators have a solid grasp of the Broadway style, but the show suffers from a lack of dramatic substance.
Waverly moved to New York to become an actress but instead bartends at night while working part time at a law firm. When she gets the offer to go full-time, she panics, wishing to hold onto the excitement of her 20s. Although her boyfriend Darren is supportive while still holding on to his own dream of becoming a successful playwright, she dumps him because… reasons, I guess. Also in the picture are Lisa, Waverly’s co-worker and Darren’s ex, whose music career is beginning to take off although she cares more about not having girlfriend, and Luke, a co-worker of Darren’s who conveniently has a literary agent father and also a huge crush on Waverly (New York must be a really small town, huh?)
A lot of elements have to come together to create a truly memorable piece of musical theatre, but the most important is the composition – not just of the music, but also of the lyrics as well as the dramatic scenes. The music has no issues and the lyrics work well stylistically. Rhymes are cleverly used and the words flow snappily, although some are much more effective than others (Lisa’s song about how she would move away from New York once she stopped seeing it as a new and exciting city is poignant and pretty, particularly when compared to the cringe-worthy musical encounter between Waverly and Darren after the breakup in which he proudly tells her how much he’s been getting, using the unfortunate metaphor of getting the milk without buying the cow…) The dramatic scenes are definitely the weakest in terms of composition – the dialogue itself is fine but the bigger problem is the storyline, which is simplistic without offering anything to take away.
Waverly realizes she might be settling down, panics, and self-destructs her life, but the stakes seem to be nonexistent – why do we care? The revelation that she was doing fine and she was happier when she was with Darren doesn’t have any weight because (spoiler alert) she gets him back no problem at the end once she realizes her mistake and no one learns anything. The other characters, Lisa and Luke, are far more interesting as, respectively, the talented lesbian singer who feels she has to choose between spending her time and efforts on either finding a life partner or furthering her career, and the spoiled sexist party boy who realizes he could become a responsible adult for the right person.
Darren and Waverly’s anti-romance takes up the majority of the hour-long run time, so we don’t get to see too much of these characters on their own, particularly Lisa (although we do an excellent exchange when Waverly thoughtlessly expresses envy for gays and lesbians who “get to have a day all to themselves” when they come out, and Lisa finally lets Waverly have it, alluding not just to the harsh realities of growing up gay but also dressing her down for her self-martyrdom. Lisa is kind of the best character, which makes the authors’ underutilization of her all the sadder).
The performers do have good voices, particularly Olivia Ulrich as Waverly and Johanna Reinberg as Lisa. The set is pretty bare-bones (it is Fringe after all) which makes the several scene transitions easier to move through (I’m not sure why the chairs that form Darren and Luke’s office downstage right have to keep being taken on- and offstage when none of the other stage properties are carried off).
Next Thing You Know doesn’t manage to say much in its hour-long incarnation, but if it were expanded into a full-length show then show creators Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham would have more room to work out the kinks in the plot and expand the parts of the lesser characters, who have lots of potential.
Next Thing You Know
An Ethereal Fantazy Production
Music by Joshua Salzman
Lyrics by Ryan Cunningham
Directed by Johanna Reinberg
Musical Direction by Phil Corrin
Performed by Liam Naughten, Johanna Reinberg, Olivia Ulrich, and Nick Xidos