Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Mother & child reunion


Musical 'Convenience' scores at NCTC

Clockwise from upper left: Joy Lian, Ricardo Rust, Loretta Janca, and Andrew Willis-Woodward in Convenience. Photo: Lois Tema
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The characters in Convenience are often one step ahead of you, doing a rug pull just when you think you know where the story is going. "That's a different show," sings a character when it seems like this is going to be another coming-out drama.

True, wayward son Vince hasn't come out to his jittery mother, but that's just one piece of a family jigsaw that needs to be pieced back together in this surprisingly smart and tuneful musical at New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Convenience doesn't arrive in SF with a high-profile pedigree. Following a 2000 premiere in Rochester, NY, it's had several subsequent productions away from the major spotlights. But it's a show that deserves a continuing life, an assessment made easier by the beguiling production at NCTC.

The production is in knowing hands, for Gregg Coffin, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, is also the director. Imaginatively presented on a stage bare save a piano and several chairs, Coffin tells the story of an estranged mother and son who need to reunite for separate reasons. After having been abandoned by her husband when son Vince was just 6, Liz is shakily preparing to remarry. Vince has his own news, not only that he is gay but is also moving in with his boyfriend. Also shakily.

And so Vince comes home for a visit in which both sides resume their battle stations and neither can quite manage to spill the beans. "Every bit of parenting blown up," sings Liz. "Am I a bad mom if I wish he hadn't shown up?"

Every word in Convenience is sung, but Coffin manages to avoid the awkwardness that often comes when dialogue is set to music. His lyrics are both musical and plot-driven, and include sharp asides and interior dialogue that punctuate the declarative words. "He's the same sarcastic brat," Liz sings to herself in the midst of a conversation with her son. The lyrics range from the acidic to bromidic, with the latter trait encroaching a bit too much toward the stretched-out conclusion.

The music itself is based in a pleasing pop show-music vein, with entertaining and appropriate detours into a large musical vocabulary that includes waltzes, minuets, Gilbert and Sullivan, and 1950s R&B. Music director Tim Hanson, at the onstage piano, has adeptly guided the cast through the huge amount of musical material.

Loretta Janca and Andrew Willis-Woodward head an appealing, assured cast as mother and son. Janca believably projects the aura of a worn woman who finds safety in emotional isolation, while still revealing a basic likeability. The boyishly handsome Willis-Woodward, as the sharp-edged Vince, doesn't try to charm the audience, but also finds a way to make the character someone we can root for.

Ricardo Rust lends a fun edge to the dual role of Vince's ebullient boyfriend and the young Vince who dreams of being an astronaut. Joy Lian is a welcome presence as the young Liz, and Mike Figueira brings a sturdy presence and a fine singing voice to the role of Liz's almost-fiancé.

The road that Convenience travels isn't startlingly different from other family stories, but it has a core honesty that helps set it apart from the pack, as well as a way to tell it that is definitely a cut above. You might call it a convenient truth.

Convenience will run at New Conservatory Theatre Center through Dec. 17. Tickets are $22-$34. Call 861-8972 or go to

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