Alice’s gap year stay in New York isn’t ideal. She’s working as an au pair for a demanding employer—Sheila—looking after her two tearaway children. Her American travel pass, or "ESTA" limits her stay to 89 nights before she needs to return to the UK, and working on an ESTA isn’t technically legal; the glittering city quickly looses its sheen.
This new musical from Bristol-based Troubadour Stageworks understands musical theatre tropes and uses them knowingly. Movement choreography used to evoke the busy city chimes with the score, and we're transported to Manhattan. The text provides moments of observation which speak to a generation that’s unsure how to make dreams come true, and deceived into thinking that trying one’s best is automatically enough to get where you want to be.
Despite this briefly emerging poignancy, the loosely sketched plot works to the detriment of the emotional journey which we’re supposedly being taken on. Alice’s troubles quickly become subsumed under those of illustrator Ben, who is as downbeat as her about living in New York.
89 Nights finds its home in a specific geographical location, but in all its name-checking of parks, squares and stations, it doesn’t take us much deeper into why the characters connect so strongly with this city nor, crucially, with each other. While it makes its original material into an engaging production, with good vocal performances and musical backing, the story is limited in scope and lacks an energetic core to set it alight.