Book: Ryan Cunningham
Music and Lyrics: Joshua Salzman
Director: Robert McWhir
The Eagle Garden Theatre has been one of the success stories of the late summer bringing musicals south of the river, but as the seasons change some might find the seating arrangements in this outdoor space a little too close for comfort. Although there is plenty of fresh air in the venue, the space doesn’t feel entirely outdoors as the audience is covered by a wooden porch, and the actors by a marquee to protect against all the rain of recent days. Temperature checks at the door, and an insistence that facemasks are worn throughout the show can’t quite mitigate the fact that the seats remain very close together.
The Eagle’s new show Next Thing You Know is hailed in its publicity as ‘Rent for this generation.’ It isn’t. Rent was about how HIV/AIDS affected a group of struggling actors in the late 80s and early 90s. Next Thing You Know is also about struggling artists in New York, but their struggles are banal when compared to those of the cast of Rent. In this 90-minute musical by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham, Waverly is caught between taking a full-time job in an office or pursuing her acting career, while her friend Lisa doesn’t know whether to wait in New York to meet the love of her life or go to LA to seek her there instead.
That’s about it as plot is concerned. Waverly has a boyfriend Darren who writes plays, and Luke is his work colleague in his day job. The four of them either work or visit a bar on Sullivan Street, where most of the action takes place. The songs are pleasant but ultimately as anodyne as the story itself. Thankfully, the four actors, all graduates in 2020, try hard to bring some energy to the lifeless plot, especially Nathan Shaw as Darren, the budding playwright and the failed Lothario.
Shaw has some of the more memorable songs too such as As Good As I Get, while poor Callum Henderson as Luke gets handed the very unfunny Morning After Omelet and a song about giving up smoking. The best songs are the two between Waverly and Lisa, Bessy Ewa and Amelia Atherton respectively, with Stay and the title track being the catchiest of all the songs, but they, too, don’t last long in the memory.
Each character is self-obsessed to some extent but this kind of navel-gazing seems a little out of place in our current climate, and it’s very hard to care if Waverly gives up on her dream or whether Lisa finds an Ellen DeGeneres for herself, either in the Big Apple or on the West Coast. Even those in their 20s – seemingly the show’s intended audience – will feel that the show is unnecessarily shallow.
Still, kudos to the Eagle in giving these young actors a break in a time when the creative industry’s future remains in jeopardy and when Government adverts suggest that young performers give up on the dreams and work with computers instead. Despite the blandness of Next Thing You Know, there’s still something uplifting in hearing singing voices triumph over the traffic that sometimes roars outside the walls of this Vauxhall theatre.
Runs until 31 October 2020