Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Much Ado About Procreation: “Baby” surfaces at CCPA
At time – the 1980s – when musical theater in the U.S. was increasingly synonymous with spectacle, David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr’s little gem “Baby” was born. This musical gently examined the pressures, fascinations and choices surrounding the whole idea of having a child. Now finishing a run at Covina Center for the Performing Arts, its factual information may be dated, and some of its messages might play out differently today, but it still packs charm and an essential humanity which prove very attractive.
The story centers around three women, who meet in the show’s most joyous moment in an OB’s waiting room. There, their yearning to be the newly embraced super-Moms bursts forth in the ebullient “I Want it All” – the musical’s signature song. One is a college student determinedly unwed to her musician boyfriend. One is a college athletic coach anxious to complete her shift from tomboy to feminine but struggling to become a mother. One is an empty nester startled to find herself about to sit on the nest again. The show follows all of them through their diverse journeys.
Kristin Towers-Rowles gives the college girl all the idealism, enthusiasm and impracticality of a teenager, combine with a sort of innate energy which powers her character through the piece. As her boyfriend, Keith Barletta’s overwhelmed and well-meaning music student defies stereotype to become quite endearing. In playing the older woman who thought that she was done raising children, Gail Matthius performance gives a window on a sequence of internal struggles – moving even as it is gently underplayed. Phil Oakley’s well tamed but ever-present old school machismo vibrates against her performance to create depth in this couple’s dynamic.
Jessie Withers balances the stereotypical “lady jock” with an earnest womanliness, and David Laffey creates a remarkable foil for her: passionately loving, outwardly strong, inwardly infinitely fragile. Providing doctors, fellow parents, college students and other people to populate the background, Mark Gamez, Britney Voitel, Cody Michael Perry and Michelle Griepentrog sing beautifully and help this extremely episodic piece flow from moment to moment with grace.
Director Janet Miller has all but choreographed the show, from the movement of the spare set pieces to the intertwining of those coming and going from the stage, in a way which encourages this sense of continuity. Ironically the show’s only weak point arrives when she is actually called upon to choreograph a sequence where a group of men sing and dance to a song called “Fatherhood Blues.” The dancing is corny and interferes with the song by winding the singers. It just doesn’t work.
Still, “Baby” has much to recommend it. Granted, fertility efforts have made great strides since then, and men rarely get away with (as one in this pack seems to) a “master of the universe” tone, but the essential fact of dealing with the desire to have, the fear of having, and the life-changing reality of having a child can resonate with an audience to great effect.
Special kudos to Corey Hirsch, who not only acts as musical director, but plays the entire score on an on-stage piano. Indeed, this musical is that intimate, making it a perfect fit with CCPA’s comfy, equally intimate theater space. Come, listen, smile and – at least if you have been a parent – reminisce.
What: “Baby” When: Through July 1, 8 p.m Friday and Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave. in Covina How Much: $28 – $38 Info: (626) 331-8133 ext. 1 or http://www.covinacenter.com