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Next Thing You Know

A fine score by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham elevates this awkward musical about a group of struggling twentysomethings.

Lauren Molina and Lauren Blackman in
Next Thing You Know
(© Greg Solomon)
Much like its 28-year-old heroine Waverly (Lauren Molina), Next Thing You Know, now playing at CAP21, is at an awkward stage in its life. While the character grapples with questions about what to do with her life, the musical, written by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham -- who penned the utterly charming I Love You Because a few years back -- struggles with issues of storytelling and character development.

Waverly's crisis comes when she receives word that she could begin working full-time at the law firm where she's been temping. The gig -- along with a night job at a dive bar -- has allowed her to live in Manhattan, but at the expense of her acting career. Should she accept the new job offer, it would mean giving up on her dreams of becoming an actress, and that is a notion that sends her into a tailspin.

Her dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that her aspiring playwright boyfriend Darren (Adam Kantor) doesn't understand why she's so upset by the career options she's been given. In fact, his nonchalant reaction to the news causes their breakup, and while she's on the rebound and desperately trying to hold on to what she believes is the spontaneity of youth, she starts seeing Luke (Heath Calvert), a womanizer who works in sales at the place where Darren temps.

The scenario has promise, but it's also filled with some gaping holes, which are often underscored in director Terry Berliner's fussy, ill-paced staging. For instance, Luke is a regular at the bar where Waverly works (he's tried to pick her up multiple times). And yet, he and Darren (a true denizen of the place) seem to have never met when audiences first encounter them in an overextended scene centered on a one-note joke about using goofy web-based software to communicate.

Equally problematic is the generic aura that surrounds all of the characters. Luke is the lothario with an unsurprisingly soft heart; Darren's the goofball pragmatist; and Waverly's really a modern-day, distaff Peter Pan: she simply doesn't want to grow up. A fourth character, Waverly's BFF Lisa (Lauren Blackman), is merely a cipher: a lesbian, who, not having found the right woman in New York, is thinking about leaving the city for the West Coast.

What elevates the show are Salzman and Cunningham's jaunty tunes, delivered with amiable panache by the ensemble, which would be perfect for a revue about the angst of contemporary twentysomethings. Salzman's musical vernacular embraces the sounds of yesteryear, along with pop, country-western, and the musical theater power ballad.

In addition, Cunningham's lyrics can be smart and insightful. Two standouts are "Morning After Omelet," in which Luke woos Waverly, and "Manhattan Bridge," where Lisa describes her reason for believing it's time to move on. These two songs, in fact, are so memorable, one can't help but hope the creators will fine-tune the material surrounding them.


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