11/24/2019 BABY Act 3 Productions
REVISITING OLD FAVORITES
Sometimes, we can be most harsh when re-encountering old favorites in new productions. So it could have been with me and Baby, the 1984 Shire-Maltby musical about, well, about having a baby. This show has always appealed to me since I first encountered its score way back when. Seeing (several times) an absolutely outstanding production a few years later only reaffirmed my affection. Baby is filled to bursting with memorable “power ballads” and ‘80’s-esque story-telling. But it has always been its characters, its three couples coping with the sudden onslaught of parenthood, that I’ve always found most appealing. Mixing humor, pathos, panic, and rumination, this is a show I can (and have) watched over and over again.
Back in 2010, I chastised a production for “throwing out the parents with the bathwater,” distracting from the parents’ stories by throwing a myriad of cute-as-pie baby photo-projections to distract us from the songs and characters that SHOULD be the focus of this piece. Act 3 Productions’ just-closed production did not make that same mistake, and the result was a powerhouse musical that hit every emotion just right. Thankfully!
Of course, my experience as a parent has inevitably changed the filters through which I watch this particular piece, but, those filters make it more memorable, more compelling, more moving.
Baby takes us to an “anywhere and anytime” (‘80’s references and musical styles notwithstanding) college campus, introducing us to three couples. Danny and Lizzie are the students, finding an off-campus basement apartment to co-habit, discovering there will soon be a third tenant in their little hideaway. Pam and Nick are the jocks, coaches who have been trying for years to conceive and start a family. And Arlene and Alan are the older couple, facing an “empty nest” that will turn out to be not-so-empty after all. Although they all know each other in one way or another, the three stories remain fairly independent, as we see how the approach of parenthood (or lack thereof) affects each of their relationships.
Act 3 Productions has peopled the cast with some outstanding singers and actors who wrap their talents around the material like so many snuggly blankets, inhabiting the characters and the songs with a conviction that will be appealing to anyone not familiar with the show. Abi Sneathen and Brandon Deen are Lizzie and Danny, touching in their vulnerability. Kate Metroka and Brian Slayton are a nice Pam and Nick, moving and funny and determined in their ever-failing attempts to conceive. And Lisa Reich and Chris Davis bring a relaxed maturity to Arlene and Alan, providing a nice contrast to the rest of the cast.
In general, I have nothing but praise for the entire cast and ensemble, and John Michael d’Haviland’s musical direction is every bit as good as it’s been in his many previous endeavors.
Okay, I did have major problems with some of the technical aspects of the production: a set that seemed cumbersome and illogical – empty picture frames suggesting a Minimalist Art Museum more than a college campus; a lighting design that seemed to leave the first two rows of audience brightly lit at the expense of the cast; a sound design that knee-capped the singers with mikes failing too often and making the occasional rude sound.
But, Great Scott(!) did this cast overcome these obstacles.
This is especially true in the Act I trio “I Want it all” and in the solo ballads, “Patterns (Arlene), “Easier to Love” (Alan), “I Know I Chose Right” (Danny), and especially “The Story Goes On” (Lizzie’s Act One closer, which I’ve always considered one of the best songs from the 1980’s Broadway songbook). Ms. Sneathen really “nails” this one, singing of the connection between herself, her baby, and all the mothers going back to “some primordial sea.” It is a revealing character moment as well as a strong musical act-ender. And it sent me into intermission on a wave of Musical-Geek Euphoria.
The group numbers also come off well, especially the opening “We Start Today,” the fathers’ happy-to-the-bone “Fatherhood Blues,” and the Act Two opener “The Ladies Singing Their Song.” This is a score I’ve loved since I saw “I Want it All” on the Tony Awards broadcast that year, and this cast met ALL of my musical expectations.
So, despite my reservations about the technical aspects of this show, it was a true delight, and, if Sunday’s closing performance was any indication, an audience favorite. The show is not produced often enough for my tastes, and I was extraordinarily happy to see it again.
Maybe not so oddly, my reaction was more emotional than it’s been in the past, I first saw it DECADES before my own dip into fatherhood, and, though the 2010 production I disliked so much was seen through a “Father-of-a-ten-year-old” filter, I was disappointed in the misplaced focus too much for the quirks and joys of parenthood to “click” on my radar.
Now, though, I am the parent of a distant adult daughter, and everything in the show “hit home” in a way previously “outside my experience.” I was able to appreciate ALL the aspects of parenthood on display, the joys, the miseries, the sacrifices, the surprises – I’ve had them all.
So, even though the title is Baby, this is first and foremost a musical about parenthood. That it appealed to me even back when parenthood was not on my horizon is a credit to its characters, its stories, and, especially, its music.
Act 3 Productions’ Baby was a rapturous joy, and I won’t soon forget it!
-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #Act3Productions #BabyBabyBaby)