Look what the stork dropped off: a nice bundle of joy all wrapped up in the musical Baby. It’s happily cooing away at Infinity Theatre Company in Annapolis. And this baby does not just crawl; this musical has legs to stand on its own two feet.
Perhaps you’ve heard of this gentle concept musical about the ups and downs of conceiving a child, or perhaps not. With a book by Sybille Pearson that keeps the action moving and the story balanced is topped off by one of the best musical scores of the last 30 years, in my humble opinion. Composed by the long-running lyricist and composer team of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire, the songs serve the story and extend the experiences of the characters throughout their different emotional journeys.
Infinity’s production offers ample reasons to perambulate to Annapolis and discover the charm and infectious melodies that tell the story of three sets of expectant couples. Lizzie Fields (Lauren Wright) and Danny Hooper (Nick DeVito) are juniors at a small, Ivy League university, settling in to live together and facing the world on their own terms. The thirty-somethings are represented by two coaches at the college, Pam and Nick Sakarian. Pam (Erin Wegner Brooks) and Nick (Jon Reinhold) are very much in love but have not had any luck conceiving. Rounding out the couples, we meet stay-at-home mom Arlene (Joy Hermalyn) and university staff member Alan (Erick Pinnick) who are adjusting to life in their 40’s and their marriage after 20 years together.
And then comes the heartbeat and the reaction each couple has to the news of the spark of life and a new nine month journey to parenthood, running from stunned (Danny and Lizzie) and horrified (Arlene and Alan) to overjoyed (Nick and Pam).
What follows is a narrative that follows not only each couple but the individual characters through the highs, lows, doubts, fears and sometimes harsh realities of ushering a child into their lives. Alan and Arlene contemplate how they could have ended up pregnant in their 40s with “The Plaza Song,” while Lizzie and Danny celebrate the combination of genes that will make a nearly perfect kid in “What Could Be Better?” Nick and Pam (joined by the others) offer up an ode to the unborn miracle presumably percolating in her womb with the catchy “Baby, Baby, Baby.”
As mothers-to-be, the three ladies meet by chance in the doctor’s office and burst into song with an amusing and brassy anthem “I Want It All,” in which they list all their hopes and dreams. “I want the morning sickness and the elations, I want every known female sensation: I want to be Scarlett O’Hara, Joan of Arc, Lauren Bacall – I want it all!” Wright, Brooks and Hermalyn pull out all the stops during the number, their three distinct voices working like a mini-symphony.
The expectant dads get their moment to shine with the jazzy and pseudo-funky “Fatherhood Blues” that is anything but blue. “Starting now, I’m paying my dues, but instead of singing the blues, I’m ha-ppy!” Both tunes and lyrics capture the excitement that nearly overcomes any anxiety faced by parents about to go through with bringing a baby into the world.
Musical comedy and catchy tunes aside, Pearson, Maltby and Shire do not sugar coat the experiences of the three couples. The road to parenthood is not always a smooth one and Baby captures not only the blissful expectation but many of the low points, but not in a maudlin way. The characters all give you something to root for so that when false alarms, potential separations, and even thoughts of terminating a pregnancy come up, the investment is high.
Each character also gets a very personal moment to share a little bit of their point of view. Pam laments that she and Danny must reduce their lovemaking to a scientific algorithm in “Romance.” Later she and Nick solidify that together they can face anything “With you.” The mature Arlene pours forth doubts and fears of her life in the soaring “Patterns,” and Alan looks in his heart to see that with children around it is so much “Easier to Love.”
Danny sings about his devotion to Lizzie and their unborn child during “I Chose Right” just as he leaves for the summer to rock out and make money in a punk band. Closing the first act, as she sees Danny off, Lizzie has perhaps the most poignant song in the Baby score, “The Story Goes On.” The unwed mother, facing months of separation from her boyfriend, feels her baby kick for the first time. Her awe leads to the song which sums up the legacy mothers pass along to their children and share with their children. This heartrending song takes on even more powerful emotion as sung by the rising young performer Lauren Wright. (Remember that name, folks.)
The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent and these performers often surpass my memories of the original Broadway cast recording I wore out years ago. The excellent cast has the skillful music director Jeffrey Lodin supporting them and leading a killer band that serves Shire’s unique score up royally. Director Igor Goldin uses his supporting ensemble – playing various college students, staff members and medical folks – to keep the show flowing with style on an eye-catching Ivy League college inspired set designed with detail by Paul Tate dePoo, III.
BABY THE MUSICAL
July 11 – August 2
Infinity Theatre at
CTA Theatre Complex
1661 Bay Head Road
2 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $20 – $36
Tickets or call 877-501-8499
I have been a big fan of Baby since it opened on Broadway in the early 1980s. This production (using the revised libretto produced by Paper Mill Playhouse) solidifies its place in my ear and in my heart as one of the best kept secrets of musical theatre.
Infinity has dusted off some other little musical gems, such as their revival of Dames at Sea a few years ago that is how scheduled for Broadway in the fall. During its original short run on Broadway, Baby got thrown out with the bathwater during the 1983-84 season where it competed with La Cage Aux Folles, Sunday in the Park with George and The Rink. After 276 performances, Baby faded away from the larger market. It found life across the country as a staple of community theatre and has been recently re-discovered, mostly due to the Maltby and Shire’s fetching score and lyrics.
Maybe this one will be the next lost treasure Infinity will bring to Broadway. Yeah, Baby!
Baby . Book by Sybille Pearson . Music by David Shire . Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. . Directed by Igor Goldin . Music Director: Jeffrey Lodin . Featuring Erin Wegner Brooks, Nick DeVito, Joy Hermalyn, Erick Pinnick, Jon Reinhold, Lauren Wright, Sam Hood Adrain, Emily Freeman, Ana Marcu, Jacob Shipley, and Alex Smith . Scenic Design: Paul Tate dePoo, III . Costume Design: Tristan Raines . Lighting Design: Jimmy Lawlor . Sound Design: Wes Shippee . Hair and Wig Design: Leah J. Loukas . Technical Director: Josh Debernardi . Casting Director: Michael Cassara, CSA . Technical Consultant: T. Sampson . Stage Manager: Denise Wilcox . Production Manager and Production Stage Manager: Carol A. Sullivan . Produced by Infinity Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.