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A CurtainUp Review
The Next Big Thing
By David Avery
The story, set in 1983, explores the relationship between Chip (Brandon Ruckdashel), a budding songwriter/band member, and his mother Melissa (Missy Gibson), a somewhat bitter ex-songwriter from the 60s. Chip is pretty enamored with the new sounds emerging from New Wave bands, and especially the ones using the (in)famous Yamaha DX-7. For those of you not familiar with this particular keyboard, let's just say that if you were in a signed band in 1983, chances are it was used all over your record. It is instantly recognizable on most recordings, and revolutionized digital music.
Melissa, who doesn't want her son in the music industry because of her experiences, works hard to dissuade him from just selling out. Chip, on the other hand, is a high school senior with stars in his eyes, sights set on a local popular girl and a burgeoning band working out of his garage. The addition of singer Kim (Matisha Baldwin) seems to cement the band's line-up and sound.
The book accounts for more than half of the play's length. I have to say that sung-through productions tend to wear me out, so I appreciated that most of the story is told via spoken dialogue. Some of the songs are played live by the cast, and don't have anything to do with the story other than to provide an example of an 80s sounding tune. They're fairly catchy in a synthpop sort of way, and for somebody who grew up listening to 80s bands that isn't bad at all. Many of the numbers are call and response duets or have competing themes with different lyrics.
It helps that the two female leads (Gibson and Baldwin) are very good singers. Gibson has a smoky rock voice, while Baldwin has a great soul/R&B voice. Gibson (who fronts a real indie band called Breech, (look them up, they're pretty good) also wrote the songs with her band mate Mike Flanagan, and they lack the usual theatrical song trappings that can derail a "rock" musical. In other words, the songs sound like 3 minute pop songs, not laboriously produced epics that soar to the heights and sound really, really important. The entire cast is on target vocally.
The understated approach to the music fits the stripped down, low-key production. The spare set looks for the most part like the inside of a garage, with few props and only movable wings to change its shape. Creati ve lighting also adds some sectioning so that the simple stage can resemble different places like a kitchen or an office.
If there is anything to quibble about, it's that the story tells us nothing earthshakingly new: the music industry is greedy and manipulative, parents and children never seem to agree on what is best, and keeping a partnership together and viable is difficult in the face of talent and fame. The insinuation that Melissa's best friend Mary Lou (Ellen D. Williams), a lesbian and had or has a thing for Melissa seems tacked on to give Williams a vocal solo. That being said, The Next Big Thing is a cute nostalgia piece and a fine way to spend a couple of hours. Bring your Vans and skinny ties.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook