Tuesday, August 19, 2008

LA Stage Scene Review of Baby

Three women learn that they are pregnant. One is surprised, the second overjoyed, the third shocked, almost horrified by the news.

Thus begins Baby, Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire’s 1983 Broadway sort-of-a-hit (241 performances and 7 Tony Award ... nominations).

Liz is the surprised one. She’s still a college student, and though crazy in love with would-be musician Danny, not at all interested in the bonds of marriage.

30something Pam is the one jumping for joy. She and Nick have been trying for a child for some years now, and had almost given up hope.

Arlene, 42, already has three grown children and the last thing she and 48-year-old husband Alan want is to start all over again with an infant in the house.

Sybille Pearson’s book (based on a story by Susan Yankwitz) follows the three couples through the ups and downs of the next nine months of their lives. Decisions must be made, beginning with the most basic one, whether to have the baby or not to, and in the case of one of the couples, whether to keep on trying when their pregnancy test result turns out to be a false positive.

Though Baby lasted less than a year on Broadway, it has become a regional and community theater favorite. Maltby and Shire’s songs are some of their best, highlighted by the deeply moving “The Story Goes On,” and the plotlines are something most (though not all) theatergoers can identify with. I’m part of the “not all” demographic, and thus Baby has never been a particular favorite of mine. Still, the show has its many charms and the retirees who made up most of Saturday’s audience at the West Valley Playhouse responded warmly (and nostalgically) to the ups and downs of the three expecting couples.

WVP’s production is bare bones (virtually no set, a single piano, and a simple lighting design) but thanks to an enthusiastic cast, which features a number of very good performances, there are many bright moments to be had.

Nicole Ligerman is cute and appealing as Lizzie, who has no desire for a wedding, which she dubs an “anti-social act (which) no one survives,” and who declares, perhaps a bit optimistically, that “the important thing is to work the baby into your life.” Patrick Robert Kelly (Ligerman’s real life beau) brings a goofy charm to Danny, especially when donning a punk rock wig. Both are good singers, with Ligerman ending the first act with an emotional bang with “The Story Goes On.”

As Pam, Alissa-Nicole Koblentz is a dazzler, a striking auburn-haired beauty with the best pipes in the show, and fine comedic chops. Her Nick is the handsome indeed Richard Knolla doing fine (and likeable) work here ( Their ironically-titled “Romance” is an amusing accompaniment to their “by the numbers” last ditch efforts get pregnant.

As 40something Alan and Arlene, Timothy Bergen and Marjorie Vander Hoff create amusing and sympathetic characters dealing with, as Arlene puts it, the knowledge that “I’ll be 60 when she’s 20.” Vander Hoff does some fine acting in the emotional and moving “Patterns,”. Bergen and Vander Hoff are very funny in a getting-in-shape sequence which features him on a trampoline and her on a stationary bike.

Some of Baby’s best work is done by the excellent five person ensemble, Kim Gubner, Oscar Luzanilla, Tracy McBurnett (my personal favorite), Cornelia Rinderknecht Eller, and Nancy Solomons, who begin the show in choir robes as they sing the show’s “Prologue” about the miracle of birth, and later morph into various personae including a hilarious real estate agent, a contact lens-challenged physician, softball team members, and an elderly female Greek chorus for “The Ladies Singing Their Song.”

Director/choreographer Noel Britton has done some good work here, the men’s jazzy “Fatherhood Blues” being a dance highlight. On piano, musical director Patricia Hannifan provides flawless accompaniment, though another instrument or two would have been created a richer sound. Don Nelson’s costumes are well chosen. Charles W. Hall’s set mostly consists of furniture rolled on and off stage. Kudos to cast member who manage to move a double bed to and from the wings more times than I could count. Danny Truxaw’s lighting design is fairly simple, but effective.

Baby is sure to take most audience members down memory lane, and thanks to some wonderful songs, amusing comedy sequences, and a number of fine performances, WVP’s production has much to recommend in it.

West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave. Canoga Park. Through September 7. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:30. Tickets: (818) 884-1907.

--Steven Stanley
August 16, 2008


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Nuns Gone Wild

Alissa-Nicole Koblentz (Sister Berthe),Mirai Booth-Ong (Sister Margaretta) and Taylor Pyles (Sister Christian) Just a silly thing we concocked backstage before our final performance of The Sound of Music. Have a laugh with us!