Saturday, June 25, 2005

Baby (Kalliope Stage)

Kalliope Stage delivers a fine "Baby"!

Lyricist-librettist Richard Maltby and composer David Shire's musical ‘BABY,’ which opened in New York in 1983 and ran for 276 performances, is considered by many theatre buffs to be one of the most underrated concept musicals ever written. It is now being performed at Kallliope Stage.

This is a musical not about babies but about the life-altering challenges of having a baby. It takes place at an unnamed American college, where three couples face pregnancies. They are a pair of unmarried juniors, a set of married 20 something athletic coaches, and a 40-something couple that has just sent their kids off to college. We follow them through nine months that lead to lots of laughs, some truthful awareness and some eye-welling moments.

I wouldn’t go so far as a reviewer who stated that “‘BABY’ is a masterpiece and Sybille Pearson's book is one of the strongest original libretti ever written for Broadway,” but I would say that when I first saw the musical at Berea Summer Theatre many years ago, I was enthralled. I wouldn’t classify this with ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ or ‘CHORUS LINE,’ but it has so much charm, pathos and wonderful songs, that it holds its own against many musicals.

So, why is ‘BABY’ underrated? The Broadway show, which opened on December 4, 1983, probably suffered from an accident of timing. Debuting in the same season as ‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE,’ ‘THE RINK’ and ‘LA CAGE AUX FOLLES,’ it was never able to win the attention -- or the Tonys -- it deserved. This, in spite of excellent reviews.

Another reason is that this is a small theatre musical. Kalliope Stage is a perfect venue for the show. It, like intimate musicals such as ‘I DO, I DO’ and “THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG,’ need the audience to be up-close so the ideas speak directly to the audience. The Broadway house in which it played was anything but intimate.

The Kalliope production is adeptly directed by Paul F. Gurgol. He has perfectly paced the show, creatively staged it, and gets wonderful performances out of his talented cast.

Andrew Smith and Carrie Hall play the college students. Smith is an all around performer. He develops a clear character, sings well, has a fine sense of timing and dances with ease. This is a very talented young man. Hall has a big and well-pitched voice. She lacks the physical looks probably needed for the role, but makes up for it with her singing. The duo’s “What Could Be Better” was cute and well sung. There did, however, appear to be a lack of emotional connection between them throughout the show...kisses weren’t real, the handholding was tentative, there was a lack of direct connection when they spoke and sang.

Scott Posey (Nick) and Kris Comer (Pam) were right on as the athletic coaches who have trouble conceiving. They both have strong singing voices and keen acting talent. Their “With You” was so tender that there was an emotional pause on the part of the audience following it’s conclusion followed by appreciative applause.

The always engaging Adina Bloom (Arlene) and the excellent John Jensen (Alan) were surperb as the older couple faced with the decision of whether they wanted to start their lives all over as “older” new parents. Their voices soared and their scene development was perfectly keyed. They played off each other as the performance pros they are. Their version of “And What If We Had Loved Like That” was an emotional show-stopper.

Kimberly Koljat and Rita Linger added their fine vocal talents in supporting roles.

Show highlights included the trio of Hall, Comer and Bloom belting out “I Want It All” and the male quartet of Smith, Posey, Jensen and John Paul Boukis presenting a cleverly staged “Fatherhood Blues.” Another show highlight was a very funny scene in which Boukis, portraying a doctor with new contact lenses, explains why one of the couples was having difficulty conceiving. Normally this wouldn’t be perceived as a funny scene, but Boukis took the concept and worked it to perfection.

The only flaw in the show was the poor costume choices. The play takes place in 1983, but many of the costumes were inappropriate for the era and often were ill-fitting.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you don't know the musical ‘BABY,’ it is high time you made its acquaintance. If you’ve seen it before, you won’t see a better production than that at Kalliope Stage!