There are many musicals in which lovers swoon. Not many, however, that open with the sound of falling bombs.
Gregg Coffin’s beautifully-shaped new piece—rightnextto me—is a tricky-to-summarize but admirably accomplished musical about romantic survival and recovery. It’s about three contemporary couples who are moving on—after their respective marriages are cut short by fate in Iraq, flame out in anger, or go cold and fizzle. But the show’s not a downer—it’s actually a quiet testament to love’s lingering hold over all of us, despite everything the world throws at it.
It’s a “chamber musical”—two actors and a compact band on a set with a round bed and what looks like a tree stump. Add six sets of costumes (to keep the three couples straight), subdued lighting and you’re done.
The play is simple on the outside, but complex on the inside; Coffin aptly describes it as “ruminative”—a word seldom associated with musicals. It’s a winter piece, the characters are bundled up and hunkered down. But winter’s also a beautiful transition, provided you aren’t freezing to death.
I flashed on Sondheim—possibly because actress Melissa Dye was in the lovely 2006 Music Circus production of A Little Night Music. Coffin shares Sondheim’s fascination with intersecting couples, but not the thing for infidelity.
And unlike Coffin’s Convenience and Five Course Love, rightnextto me is not a sampler of musical styles. The songs are more of a continuous piece, including a lovely hymn that closes Act I. The humor arrives via voiceover “weather forecasts” between scenes, as the actors change offstage.
Visiting actors Dye and Edward Watts are well-cast. She’s attractive and sympathetic with a good voice. He’s tall, handsome, and acts as well as he sings. Both have extensive credits. Director Melissa Rain Anderson shows sensitivity in a project that benefits handsomely from that approach.
The future? The phrase “bound for glory” feels like a mismatch for a “ruminative” show. But rightnextto me clearly deserves big-city exposure. Coffin’s gentle knack for musically illuminating matters of the heart (so evident in Convenience) manifests throughout. The man has many accomplishments ahead if he keeps to the path on which his feet are clearly set.