NEXT TIME NOW! at Eighty-Eight's

Broadway ballads sung with focused intensity in an intimate cabaret can be overpowering, especially when the songs haven't been heard a million times before. These are some of the several pleasures to be found in Next Time Now!, a revue of 16 songs by David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr., who are -- next to Stephen Sondheim and William Finn -- the best-known practitioners of smart, hyper-verbal theatrical songwriting. Six of these tunes were cut from the short-lived cult favorite Baby, four were written for Manhattan Theatre Club's Urban Blight, the rest come from the trunk. That they are literate and well-crafted is to be expected; musical director Patrick Brady exercises unexpectedly good taste by clothing them in gorgeous, simple (one-piano) arrangements that bring out the sheer beauty of (among other things) Maltby and Shire's fondness for nimble vocal counterpoint. And director Steven Scott Smith has wisely exacted performances from Brent Barrett, Michael Brian, and Lynne Wintersteller that refrain from indulging in grotesque dramatics inappropriate for a tiny room. Of the three, Brian has the most impressive belting voice -- move over, Mandy Patinkin! -- and Wintersteller is best at bringing a maturity of experience to Maltby's lyrics, most notably in the dazzlingly compact "Life Story." In its modest way, Next Time Now! is the most satisfying trunk-song revue since Craig Lucas and Norman Rene's Sondheim fest, Marry Me a Little.

7 Days, February 8, 1989