Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The Human Race Theatre Company of Dayton, in addition to their normal season, offers readings of both new shows and rarely performed existing tuners as part of their Musical Theatre Workshops Series. Past productions include King Island Christmas, Weird Romance, and the home-grown musical Prometheus Dreams. The series continues with another new title, Convenience. This two-act musical was chosen to be part of the 2000 Festival of New Musicals presented by the National Alliance For Musical Theatre and has been workshopped and produced at Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York. Following the readings in Dayton, the show is planned for another mounting at Geva and then a possible Off-Broadway production.
Convenience is the story of Vince, a closeted homosexual, and his mother Liz. Twenty-six year old Vince is unable to commit to moving in with his boyfriend Ethan due to the unresolved issues of his childhood. Ethan encourages Vince to take a trip home in order to deal with his conflict, mend the broken relationship with his mother, and "out" himself to her as well. At the same time, Liz is trying to deal with guilt about her failed marriage to Vince's father, her difficulties with her son, and a recent marriage proposal from her friend Abe. Vince's visit home brings back a flood of painful memories and stressful situations for both mother and son. With the help of their lovers, as well as the ghosts of their former selves, they seek to re-establish their bond and move forward in life.
The music, lyrics, and book for Convenience are all the work of Gregg Coffin. The score is quick, complex, and extremely catchy. Most of the songs are either sung-dialogue or introspective ballads, reminiscent of William Finn (though not always with Finn's efficiency in lyrics). While the show would benefit from a few more variations in style away from straight-forward modern theater songs (the one exception, the bluesy "Love Has This Power" is a refreshing change), the score is melodic, highly theatrical, and praiseworthy.
Coffin's book effectively mixes humor and tension, and is witty and sincere. The "convenience" of avoiding conflict instead of dealing with the unresolved issues between the characters is clearly stated and reinforced. Actually, the reinforcement of this concept is one of two primary areas where the show can be improved. The avoidance idea is reiterated so often that it becomes unnecessarily repetitive. Some trimming of the book can easily solve this problem, however. The other point of contention is the use of the ghosts of the two lead characters' memories. This device is used often, with the current Vince and Liz talking to their own younger selves, as well as that of the opposing family member. The memory of Vince's dad even makes a brief appearance. This concept strengthens the reasoning behind the issues between mother and son. However, the use of these memories needs more focus and clarity to be fully effective in the context of the piece.
The five-member cast of Convenience is made up of a mix of local and New York based performers. As Vince, Max Von Essen (from the recent Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar) displays a clear and impressively powerful voice and does well in capturing the confusion felt by the character. Local actress Henni Fisher sings capably and is convincing in the demanding role of Liz. Scott Hunt (Les Miserables, Rent) supplies much of the show's humor and sings beautifully as both Ethan and Young Vince. Melissa Rain Anderson takes a break from the current national tour of South Pacific to appear as Young Liz. She brings a strong, confident voice and an endearing quality to the role. Wright State University faculty member Don Warrick is suitable as Abe and Vince's Father.
Though the actors are seated and have scripts available, they provide detailed interaction with the other performers, which assists in allowing the audience to picture the piece fully staged. Director Kevin Moore has guided this cast well, and he has consistently done so for previous readings in the series.
Convenience is a musical theater piece of great potential, much of which has already been realized. With a little additional work and improvement, a solid, interesting, and entertaining show should emerge which will be of interest to theater audiences across the country. The show was performed on February 10 and 11, 2002. The Human Race Theatre Company continues its Musical Theatre Workshops Series with Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures, featuring Star Trek's George Takei, from June 22 - 24, 2002.