Currently running at Bristol Riverside Theatre is Maltby & Shire's musical, "Baby", nicely delivered by Director/Choreographer, D. J. Salisbury. This revised version done in 2004 for a Paper Mill Playhouse production is a vast improvement over the original Broadway show. This intimate musical centers on three couples: Two young college students who aren't married; a college Phys. Ed. teacher and his jockette wife and a middle-aged college dean and his librarian wife who have three grown children. At the top of the show each couple has been told that they are going to have a baby. But unlike the original book, which was rather saccharine, each couple now has a different story with a different and more realistic outcome. So this "Baby" has a lot more weight and a lot more character. Though loving the energetic and catchy score, I had previously not been impressed by the show when I saw it in previews on Broadway. But after seeing this version - I have become an absolute fan. It's a perfect regional theatre musical. It has a small cast, a delightful and memorable score (with great songs like "I Want it All", "I Know I Chose Right" and "The Story Goes On" a well balanced book and a universal theme. Unlike other small "concept" shows of its ilk, in "Baby" we actually get to know and like the characters.
The music is well sung by the entire cast and well accompanied by the small orchestra and I attribute that to Musical Director, Edward Keith Baker. However, the one misstep the director, Mr. Salisbury, has made is to place the orchestra behind the stage. It takes away the sense of immediacy that a live orchestra generates and this coupled with the use of two synthesizers - almost makes it seem as if the music is canned. It also renders it impossible for the musicians to hear their levels and if they are overpowering the singers. Hence, they are a little too loud in the opening number when the actors are speaking over the underscoring.
The costumes (which had obviously been pulled) are just, you'll have to pardon me, but they're just butt ugly and do nothing for any of the actors who have to wear them. If this is supposed to be the early 1980's where are the shoulder pads? In the era of "Reaganomics" the clothes were angular, colorful and over the top - just look at some old fashion photos of Princess Di. The set by Troy Hourie on the other hand is charming. A painted backdrop done in deep pinks and blues which resembles the University of Pennsylvania campus is encased by a series of columned collegiate like prosceniums. The bed, the one piece of moveable scenery - glides mechanically in and out of scenes to great effect. Apparently, early in the run there were some technical difficulties with these scenic effects, but by the time I saw the show all the kinks had been worked out. This production has also wisely left out the awful video of a sperm impregnating an egg which started off the Broadway show which I found so off-putting.
Tim Ewing is terrific as Alan MacNally, the dean who wants a second family - as is Leslie Becker who portrays his wife, Arlene, who can't make up her mind if she's ready to be a mother again. Steven Goldsmith is a ball of energy with a great tenor voice as Danny, the young composer who gets his girlfriend pregnant. And Betsy Morgan sings her heart out as Lizzie, an aspiring singer, the object of his affection. I also appreciated how Mr. Goldsmith and Ms. Morgan really connect onstage with great chemistry. Amanda Watkins has a very sweet voice and delivers a perky performance as the overly fit, Pam, while Brad Little, a big hunk with a big voice is alternately great and awful. When Mr. Little controls his huge vocal instrument and modulates his acting, he's great. And when he doesn't - he's like an Elvis impersonator - too big, too glitzy and too phony for this show. Mr. Little performs "Phantom of the Opera" all over the world - and I'm sure he's fabulous. But "Baby" is a small, intimate show and the rest of the cast is playing it at a naturalistic level, which makes Mr. Little seem doubly larger than life. That's why we have directors, and like it or not we actors have to listen to them sometimes. It's just painful to see someone with so much talent deliver such an erratic performance. Edward Keith Baker in his cameo performance as the doctor with new contact lenses is extremely funny in his one short scene. It has to be short, for as soon as it's over he has to run back and conduct the orchestra and play the second keyboard.
All in all this production of "Baby" is a charming surprise that just about everybody can relate to.