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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Baby at ArtsWest

Also see David's review of Omnium-Gatherum

Original cast albums are a tricky thing. They usually give you expert readings of material by gifted and professional performers, often creating roles that have been tailored for them. And you are not burdened by book problems, which are almost always the undoing of musicals. Such, for me, is the case with Baby, which, based on listening to the 1983 original Broadway cast recording, made me an even bigger fan of songwriters Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire than I had been from hearing the first revue of their work, Starting Here, Starting Now. When I finally saw Baby in a Seattle area production in the early '90s, Sybille Pearson's book seemed spotty but sufficient, but the songs were definitely worth the trip to the theatre.

I missed another local company's recent mounting of Baby, so the ArtsWest production is only my second exposure to the show. It is a small scale musical about three couples of different ages, all dealing with impending parenthood. Director Christopher E. Zinovich apparently had trouble finding actor/singers up to the challenges of this material, and his production suffers accordingly, as well as being saddled with those book problems, which have worsened as the show has aged.

The young twenties couple, college students Lizzie and Danny, want to have their baby, but aren't so sure about marrying so young. They have a lot of the score's more dated numbers, but also a couple of its standouts. Greta Bloor is this close to having the vocal pipes for Lizzie's big act one closer (and the hallmark number of the show), "The Story Goes On," and is humorously beleaguered listening to well-meaning but annoying women in "The Ladies Singing Their Song." Cassidy Katims as Danny leads the male cast in a comic highlight of the show (especially as staged), "The Fatherhood Blues." But there is no believable romantic connection with Katims and Bloor; his Danny is so adrogynous and effeminate (even for a punk-rocker) that he seems to have wandered in from the lead in a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The thirties couple, coach Nick and his athletically inclined spouse Pam, are trying desperately to conceive, and Nick's sperm count turns out to be the problem. Jeanette LeGault gives a sincere, natural and warmly funny performance as Pam, though the range of some of her character's vocals is often out of her grasp. Matt Tucker as Nick cops a sort of wounded puppy dog quality throughout that becomes tiresome, and his voice at best can be described as adequate. Thus, the pair's summation love ballad "With You", set to one of Shire's loveliest melodies, fails to ignite.

Thankfully, Frank Kohel and Dawn Brazel as Alan and Arleen (who have just emptied their nest only to learn of an impending baby) are ideal fits for their roles as the couple in their forties; they easily are the best matched of the couples. Brazel is wonderfully wry in her section of the wives trio's "I Want It All" and conveys a range of conflicting emotions in her soliloquy "Patterns." Kohel, the best vocalist in the cast, ironically has the least to sing but really puts across his song about children being "Easier to Love" than wives, and his duet with Brazel on the late act two powerhouse ballad "And What If We Had Loved Like That?" is deeply satisfying musical theatre.

Director Zinovich makes better use of the stage than most past directors at ArtsWest, making sure both the main center seated patrons and the smaller stage right and left viewers are afforded equally good views of the action. He and co-choreographer Lori Dillon provide varied and engaging staging. And the ensemble of the show lends comic zeal to a score of cameo roles. Deanna Schaeffer at the piano provides the cast with exuberant, full-bodied support, though it is off-putting that in such a small house, with only piano accompaniment, miking is required (and that several of the performers are still barely audible).

Baby is being overhauled by its creators for another stab at Broadway. It will be interesting to see if they can make it better and not worse (as was the case with the revised tour of Maltby & Shire's Big). I applaud ArtsWest offering its audience base a chance to see something off the beaten track, even if the music got the short end of the stick in this case.

Baby plays at ArtsWest playhouse and gallery, 4711 California Ave SW in West Seattle, through November 1, 2003. For further information visit Arts West on-line at www.artswest.org.




- David-Edward Hughes



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