Real life, in song
Wow. I’ve known for a while that Gregg Coffin has the unusual ability to create music that not only complements but also advances a play—whether it’s an original score or arrangements of someone else’s material. But nothing prepared me for Convenience, which is, very simply, a darned good musical. I don’t mean it’s a strong rookie effort. (This is the first show Coffin has written the book, lyrics and music for.) Convenience measures up as an accomplished piece by any standard.
It works because the components mesh so well together. For starters, Coffin understands the importance of a good story, involving characters who matter to the audience. It’s about a mother and son overcoming 20 years of bad relations, told through two onstage moms and two onstage sons who represent characters then and now. Divorce, depression, teenage defiance, remarriage and coming out all fit into the equation, but it’s the mother-son bond that drives the piece.
Coffin invokes a palette of musical genres in his sung-through score. When the son frets about telling his mom he’s gay, it’s a nagging alarm-clock beat, with declining notes. When Mom meets her son’s boyfriend, and they find themselves gasping for words, it’s a nimble ditty in a Gilbert-and-Sullivan vein, underlining the awkward social protocol on both sides. And when love resolves all, it’s a comfy, country ramble à la Ray Charles. Throughout, Coffin’s lyrics have attitude underscored with humanity—a winning combination. There’s only one song I’d reconsider, “Pink Catawba Wine.” Most people (here, anyway) are mercifully unfamiliar with the beverage, which blurs the reference.
Director Kevin Moore reinforces the show’s natural appeal with little flourishes of gentle physical comedy and a sure sense of purpose. Lucinda Hitchcock Cone (who performed Coffin’s songs as the Fairy Godmother in the Sacramento Theatre Company’s Cinderella) gives a well-sung, warm performance as the middle-aged mom. It would be great to see her perform locally more often. Scott Hunt plays the adult son with beguiling sincerity and quiet charm. Zach Hannah plays the son’s lover (and the son as a boy) with bright energy. As the mom’s midlife suitor, Scott Stoney is strong and manly without turning macho. Melissa Rain Anderson is the young mom, aching after a divorce.
Convenience is easily the best musical the Sacramento Theatre Company has presented in years. The fact that Coffin lives here and is working on two new scores leaves us hoping for even more good things to come.