Then, Now & Next is a new musical by Christopher J Orton of My Land’s Shore and Jon Robyns who is currently playing the lead role in The Phantom Of The Opera. Receiving its world premiere at The Southwark Playhouse, Then, Now & Next is the pair’s first collaboration and features top-tier West End talent in what promises to be an enchanting new British musical.
Then, Now & Next is the story of Alex Shaw. Struggling with a difficult past, Alex is attempting to take steps forward. We follow her journey over twenty years, through two loves – young, adventurous idealist, Stephen, and the older, reliable and charming Peter – as she gathers the scattered chapters of her life, in the hope of re-building her story and asking if she will ever be more than just “fine”. Through Alex’s experiences, her uplifting story questions how relationships can change over time and explores what it takes to truly heal. Accept what was and embrace what could be.
West End darling Julie Atherton (Ordinary Days, Made in Dagenham, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Legally Blonde) directs Tori Allen-Martin (Park Bench, One Man Two Guvnors, Rent) as Woman, Justin Brett (Jack and the Beanstalk, Million Dollar Quartet, Beauty and the Beast) as Man, Alice Fearn (Come From Away, Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Alex Shaw, Peter Hannah (The Oyster Problem, Into The Woods, Waitress) as Peter and Joaquin Pedro Valdes (Killing the Cat, The Lion King, Heathers The Musical) as Stephen.
As Woman, Tori Allen-Martin has some wonderfully comic moments. Playing many characters throughout, Allen-Martin could be described as the woman of a thousand accents. Each character she portrays is individually crafted, unique and believable. A fun performance from a wonderful character actor. As Man, Justin Brett gives a wonderful performance with each of his characters as equally formed. Highlights were a very believable angry French waiter and a near-perfect New Zealand accented policeman. As loveable rouge Peter, Peter Hannah gives a beautiful vocal performance with some lovely moments in Act Two where he really lets his strong tenor voice shine. As Stephen, Joaquin Pedro Valdes is a delight. His youthful energy easily aligns with the characters and Valdes gives an energetic performance as the young heart-throb. Alice Fearn gives a subtle but powerful performance as Alex Shaw. Shaw is a complicated character, unable to move past her grief to love again and Fearn shines in an understated performance of a woman at constant battle with herself.
The musical is structured as a non-linear series of flashbacks, moving from one story to the next at a fast pace through Julie Atherton’s skilled direction and using Bob Sterrett’s versatile set design. The show and musical styling is reminiscent of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, however the music not as challenging, melodic or memorable. The character of Alex Shaw is mainly unlikeable and her overall emotional arch is unsatisfying. While there’s no doubt that both Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyns are extremely talented, I feel the subject matter and plot of Then, Now & Next is something we’ve seen before. This musical does little to stand on its own two feet, add a different perspective or be exciting or entertaining enough to hold the audience’s attention. I hope this writing duo has the opportunity to apply their musicality to a different story and I look forward to seeing the fruits of their future labour.
Overall Then, Now & Next was a pleasant evening at the theatre, with some fun performances and stunning vocals. It’s a chance to get up, close and personal with some West End royalty in one of London’s most celebrated theatres.
Reviewed by Stuart James