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Baby
a Musical
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Music by David Shire,Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr from the book by Sybille Pearson

COMPANY : Centerstage North Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Art Place - Mountain View
ID# 3489

SHOWING : February 12, 2010 - February 27, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Is there anything more exciting, frightening and utterly transformational than impending parenthood?
Baby" tells the story of three couples on a university campus as they deal with the painful, rewarding and agonizingly funny consequences of this universal experience. There are the college students, barely at the beginning of their adult lives; the thirty-somethings, having trouble conceiving but determined to try; and the middle aged parents, looking forward to seeing their last child graduate from college when a night of unexpected passion lands them back where they started.


CAST & CREW LIST
Musical Director Mandy Kirkpatrick
Director Sarah Mitchell
Crew Marion McPherson
Alan Jeffrey Bigger
Nick Kelly David Carr
Opening Dancer/Doctor/Ensemble Tom Milley
2nd Women/ Ensemble Shaillie Pattillo
Pam Alison Paul
Lizzie Amanda Leigh Pickard
3rd Woman/Ensemble Sarah Sandak
Danny Mark W. Schroeder
1st Woman/Ensemble Brandallyn Tihinen
4th Woman/Ensemble Mylane Wilson
Arlene Karen Worrall
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Tossing Out the Parents With the Bathwater
by Dedalus
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
3.0
Sometimes, we can be most harsh when re-encountering old favorites in new productions. So it is 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.

“Baby” takes us to an “anywhere and anytime (‘80’s references and musical styles notwithstanding)” college campus, and introduces 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.

CenterStage North 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. Mark Schroeder and Amanda Hardie are Danny and Lizzie, earnest and eager in their youth, touching in their vulnerability. Alison Paul and Kelly David Carr are a nice Pam and Nick, moving and funny and determined in their ever-failing attempts to conceive. If Mr. Carr’s soft pop-rock voice runs counter to the Broadway-belt expectations I have of the role, he nevertheless makes his songs work, and the small Art Place venue allows his lighter touch to give dimension to many of the couple’s moments. And Karen Worrall and Jeffrey Bigger 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 Mandy Kirkpatrick’s musical direction is every bit as good as her work in last year’s “Spitfire Grill.”

So, if I love the script and loved the performances, why did I leave the play feeling vaguely disappointed and even a trifle irked? It all comes down to concept, or, in this case, mis-applied concept. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is NOT a play about babies, but about parents, about the tolls pregnancy and parenthood can exact from a marriage or a more casual relationship. Yet, here, the production has taken the focus off parenthood and put it on babyhood.

This is especially evident in the Act One climax, Lizzie’s beautiful ballad “The Story Goes On,” in which she very strongly sings 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. Normally, it’s performed with Lizzie alone on stage, becoming more isolated as the song becomes freer, so, by the end, we’re left focusing on her and what she is experiencing. Here, though, Lizzie is shoved off to the side so the technical crew can a run a slide show of baby after baby (usually with a mother just visible at the edges). Baby pictures, by definition, evoke full attention with their accompanying “Ah” response. Large screens also, by definition, draw focus from any “human sized” actor on the stage. The affect here is not unlike a you-tube video. What is lost here is Lizzie. We’re bombarded with baby images to such a degree, that we forget we should be watching a young woman’s realization of the commonality that is motherhood. It’s doubly irritating because Ms. Hardie nails the song, hits every emotional note, every musical note with an accuracy that is compelling and beautiful to hear. The way it’s staged though, she could have simply pre-recorded the number and taken a backstage rest.

The projections also seemed wrong in two other numbers. Alan’s big Act II number (“Easier to Love”) is undercut by baby/family pictures, in this case, drawing attention from the song’s theme of comparing spousal and parental loves, making it more of a stroll through Alan’s photo album. More egregiously, Arlene’s song “Patterns” somehow evoked in the designers a need to show slide after slide of geometrical shapes and patterns, totally missing the point of the song (not to mention distracting from Karen Worrall’s beautiful performance of it).

Another problem with the production was the pace, particularly the long scene changes (surprising considering the modular simplicity of the set itself). It must be said that here was an example of an interesting use of the projections– the scene shifts were covered by slides of ever-developing fetuses. Unfortunately, the full sequence is repeated with each scene change, making them longer and longer just when the pace of the show needs to be tightened. It even seemed as if some of the later transitions were extended to complete the slide sequence rather than to complete the actual scene change. This pace problem could have been easily avoided by using the wide expanse of the Art Place to create more than one playing area, rather than trying to stage every scene in a limited area dead center. This would have resulted in instantaneous scene transitions, and, in fact, is how the previous stagings I saw were designed.

I apologize for spending so much of this review focusing on the few negatives rather than the many positives. When all is said and done, this script and this music hold up surprisingly well. The actors are all good, giving performances a few notches higher than expected at a non-professional venue. The sound design overcomes most of the usual Art Place problems, providing a nice balance between voices and orchestra. The show is definitely appealing in general, and the audience I was with really enjoyed (even appreciated) the talents on display.

Maybe my disappointment here comes not so much from my high expectations for this play and for CenterStage North productions in general, but from my more ingrained irritation with projections on stage. I can appreciate how projections can set a scene, create a mood, and make a more visually appealing stage picture. The downside is that they also can steal focus and even upstage the actors, which I think is the primary problem here.

It could also be a case of my interpretation of the play differing significantly from that of the designers of this production. I just can’t help but think that by focusing so much on babies in general, the production may be throwing out the parents with the bathwater.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)




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