The show has now been brought back to life with a revised script, a new song and new orchestrations. The original creative team reads like a who’s who of theater. Along with Laurents, the creators of Hallelujah, Baby include Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
The piece travels through many decades, starting at the turn of the century. Each segment reflects the style of the era that is being portrayed. As time progresses, the characters never age. The main focus is a character named Georgina. Stuck by the confines imposed on African-Americans, Georgina yearns to become a performer. As she works to make her way, she deals with the attentions of two admirers – one black and one white. Georgina also clashes with her strong willed mother who feels their place is to be subservient.
Taken as a whole, this is a first-rate piece of work. Updates have been made to reflect more recent decades. The inclusion of more modern times conveys that, while things change, they also stay the same. The show’s message is clear, despite the feeling that some of the characters are not fully defined. For instance, Georgina’s white suitor Harvey is a strong character who looks beyond the color barrier. However, there is never a hint as to what makes this character tick.
There are some interesting parallels that can be drawn between Hallelujah, Baby! and Laurent’s Gypsy. Both of the lead characters in the story have issues their very strong mothers and each mother has their own idea as to how their children should live their lives. Additionally, there is an underlying feeling of envy that eventually surfaces in both of the mothers.
The show is wonderfully staged and the score is quite good. The title song is an energetic piece that instantly grabs one’s attention. “Same Boat” cleverly compares the plight of whites and blacks in depression-era America, and “My Own Morning” illustrates Georgina’s dream to have the simple things in life.
The cast does an excellent job of bringing this show to life. Suzzanne Douglas is compelling as the independent Georgina and shows off some great vocal chops. However, the actor who steals the show is Ann Duquesnay (Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk, Jelly’s Last Jam). As Momma, Duquesnay dominates the stage, infusing humor and heart into her performance. She has some outstanding musical moments and really shines during “I Don’t Know Where She Got It.”
Curtiss I’Cook (Clem) and Stephen Zinnato (Harvey) give strong performances as the two men in Georgina’s life. The two men play well off of each other. However, it is Zinnato who exhibits the greatest amount of chemistry with the leading lady.
The set design by Jerome Sirlin makes excellent use of projections to communicate time and place, as do Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes. For the most part, the sound design by Shannon Slaton is sufficient. However, on the night this reviewer attended, there were times when the microphone was hot. There was even one instance where a microphone went out completely, though it was quickly restored.
Hallelujah, Baby! is not a perfect show, but it has many merits including its score and structure. This musical is original and invigorating with an appeal to both theater enthusiasts and the casual theatergoer. Hallelujah, Baby! runs through February 13th in the Kreeger.
Arena Stage - The Kreeger Theatre
Georgina: Suzzanne Douglas