Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Exemplary Production of Convenience
a Wonderful Song Filled Musical

Also see Richard's reviews of Passing Strange, Doubt and The Little Foxes

Loretta Janca and Andrew Willis-Woodward
Gregg Coffin's infectious song-filled musical Convenience has reached San Francisco and is running at the New Conservatory Theatre Center on Van Ness Ave through December 17th. The composer and lyricist, who also directs the 2-hour production, has assembled five very talented actor-singers for this coming of age musical.

Convenience started at the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio in 2002 where it received rave reviews. Talkin' Broadway's Cincinnati reviewer Scott Cain said the score is "quick, complex and extremely catchy." I certainly agree that the score is beguiling and wonderfully complex - and very reminiscent of early Sondheim musicals like Evening Primrose, Saturday Night and Merrily We Roll Along. There is a sprinkling of William Finn and Adam Guettel in the melodies as well. Many of the lyrics are very droll as the composer/lyricist catches the tension between a son and his mother in song. Sacramento theatre audiences saw the musical two years ago and the critics gave it thumbs up reviews.

Gregg Coffin is a master of many intricate syllables when there are conversations between Vince and his mother, and the patter between Ethan and Vince's mother in the second act is outstanding. Vince's song, "I Love How We Start Off Our Day," sung brilliantly by Andrew Willis-Woodward, is performed several times during the boy's seven day stay. Each time the lyrics show the frustration of Vince wanting to tell his mother of his gay lifestyle. He sings "Each time it gets worse, blah, blah, blah. "

Convenience centers around single mother Liz (Loretta Janca) and her estranged twenty-six year old son Vince (Andrew Willis-Woodward). Both have struggled with their stormy past with secrets that will either tear them apart or push them to reconciliation. Liz is nearly engaged and plans to move to California with her new husband. Vince is moving in with his new boyfriend Ethan (Ricardo Rust). Both mother and son are haunted by the ghosts of their painful past and they are trying to find out what makes them tick. Neither has words of courage to confront their mutual distrust. However, in one single funny, awkward and touching week, both realize they must face the things they've conveniently avoided for years.

Convenience is remarkable, with Andrew Willis-Woodward making his debut as Vince, with incredible vocal cords that are crystal clear. He has the looks of a young Corey Feldman and charisma to match.

Loretta Janca, who has worked with most musical theatre companies in the Bay area, is marvelous as the mother. She has a bell clear voice in all of her songs and her patter with Woodward is brilliant. Ricardo Rust, who has been playing in regional companies throughout the country and was in the Off-Broadway production of Clubworld, is also making his debut at NCTC playing the dual role of the boyfriend Ethan and in a "flashback" six-year-old troubled Vince. He has an engaging voice, using mannerisms of a street smart lover Ethan in present scenes and reverting to a young boy in a scene playing a "Little Spaceman" confronting a Traitor King in a Star Wars fantasy.

Joy Lian (Passion at NCTC) plays the young version of Vince's mother. She has a charming voice and is particularly smooth in a lullaby sung with Rust and Woodward in the second act.

Rounding out the five-member cast is Mike Figueira (over seven productions at 42nd Street Moon) playing Abe, the mother's fiance, and the "Traitor King" in the fantasy scenes in the second act. His vocal chops have a great thematic resonance.

Musical Director Tim Hanson at the piano is a great asset to the musical, allowing each singer to be clearly heard.

Convenience has been extended through January 6 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco. Tickets are available at the NCTC's box office 415-861-8972 or visit

Photo: Lois Tema

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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