No one writes contemporary musical romcoms better than Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham, proof positive of which can be savored in Next Thing You Know, the duo’s charming, infectiously tuneful follow-up to their off-Broadway hit I Love You Because, now being given a terrific West Coast Premiere by Chromolume Theatre Company.
Like ILYB, NTYK focuses on a quartet of late-20something New Yorkers leading not so fulfilled lives in The Big Apple.
Aspiring actress Waverly (Tara Shoemaker) finds herself torn between thespian dreams and a just-offered full-time position at the law firm where she’s been clerking (while supplementing her income mixing drinks at a “Little Bar On Sullivan Street.”)
Complicating matters for Waverly is the question of whether or not to take things to the next level with longtime boyfriend Darren (Brad Simanski), whose office temping pays the bills as he types away at what he hopes will be the Next Great American Play.
Waverly’s lesbian singer-songwriter best friend—and Darren’s ex—Lisa (Maya Sayre) is an out-of-town transplant who swore she’d never leave New York till she tired of her daily subway glimpse of “Manhattan Bridge,” and you know what? Today she didn’t look up between DeKalb and Canal, which must mean it’s time to move to L.A.
Completing the foursome is Luke (Alex Allred). a full-timer at the office where Darren temps, a love-em-and-leave-em lothario with a trademark “Morning After Omelet,” one he hopes soon to be serving to Waverly, unaware that the woman he’s got his sights on has been dating his cubicle-mate for the past five years.
Things come to a head when Darren proposes to a Waverly wavering between commitment and freedom—and you can guess which one she picks.
Next Thing You Know’s book may be wispy, but scripter Cunningham clearly knows the generation of which he writes, giving voice to Millennial hopes and dreams and insecurities and foibles in a quartet of flawed but striving quarter-lifers we come to care about, even the less than thoroughly likable Luke.
Cunningham’s lyrics are clever and funny and spot-on, as when Luke describes his “Morning After Omelet. (“For Pam I added ham, for Louise I added cheese, for Annika, paprika, she barely used a fork.”) The newly single Darren learns from his more practiced workmate that “The Way To Get A Girl” is to pretend to be taken. (“I know it seems shallow, I know it seems sleazy, but I swear I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t so easy.”) “Hangover” fills the stage with four extremely hung-over young New Yorkers. (“It’s not from drinking ten beers but drinking straight for ten years.”)
Still, Next Thing You Know wouldn’t be a musical without music, and composer Salzman possesses what too many contemporary musical theater tunesmiths lack, a gift for melody, whether it’s the breezy notes of the above-mentioned charm songs, or the simply gorgeous ballads “Manhattan Bridge,” “Don’t Say Another Word,” “If She Were Coming Home,” “I Wish There Were A Reason,” and “All That I Want Is You.”
It’s hard to imagine a finer showcase for 20something actor-singers than Next Thing You Know (unless it’s I Love You Because), and Chromolume’s cast more than fill the bill.
Simanski gives Darren a guy-next-door charm, a bit of the dork, and some fabulous pipes to make for a thoroughly winning lead performance opposite Shoemaker’s vivacious (and equally vocally blessed) Waverly.
The golden-voiced Allred’s natural likeability makes him a terrific choice to play Luke, and his foot-higher stature makes him a delightfully mismatched foil to Simanski’s Brad.
Shen Heckel makes a noteworthy directorial debut, both in the performances he has elicited and in the imaginative use of his carefully-detailed multi-locale NYC set (bar, office, and assorted apartments) lit by Richard Fong with professional flair.
L.A. costume design star Michael Mullen provides each character with multiple just-right outfits. Sound designer James Esposito gets snaps for one of Next Thing You Know’s cleverest sequences, one which has side-by-side office mates Darren and Luke conversing in computer-generated voices.
Musical director Emily Cohn earns high marks both for cast vocals and for piano accompaniment. (Only those familiar with the show’s cast recording will miss the strings and percussion of its original orchestrations.)
Olivia Sedoryk is stage manager. Molly Gilman, Matthew Noah, Bonnie Sludikoff, and Michael Worden are understudies.
I fell in love with Salzman and Cunningham’s I Love You Because the second I heard its Original Cast Recording ten years ago and keep fingers crossed that it won’t take another ten years for their maiden hit to get its Los Angeles Premiere.
In the meantime, there’s Next Thing You Know, a romantic roundelay that offers its own brand of delights while welcoming Chromolume Theatre back with a mix of New York City magic and pizzazz.
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.
April 15, 2106
Photos: James Esposito