BWW Review: Feinstein's/54 Below Pays Tribute to BABY: THE MUSICAL and Benefits Planned Parenthood
For nearly 35 years, I have loved the score of BABY, the Broadway musical that ran for 241 performances from 1983 to 1984 and made Liz Callaway a star. So, it was thrilling to hear the music sung in concert by a stellar cast at Feinstein's/54 Below on March 18, the proceeds of which went to Planned Parenthood.
I was hoping that some of the original Broadway cast would be on board for the concert, but once the show began, I didn't miss Ms. Callaway or anyone else. The room was filled with fellow lovers of the musical, including the show's creators--- Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics and the original director), David Shire (music), and Sybille Pearson (book).
Maltby did a terrific job of directing the cast of 12 in such a small space. The six-member ensemble often sang to the sides of the stage to make room for the main cast of six, who sat at the back of the stage against the wall when they weren't called upon to step up to the microphones for a number.
BABY is about three couples--- one very young who find themselves expecting before they're ready (Lizzie and Danny), another in their 30s who are struggling to conceive (Pam and Nick), and a third in their 40s who are suddenly expecting again after their first brood has grown up (Arlene and Alan).
Carolee Carmello (SWEENEY TODD) as Arlene performed a particularly stirring "Patterns," a song that was cut from the show on Broadway but has become a frequently performed cabaret number. Marc Kudisch (THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE) brought his well-known sense of humor to the role of Alan, particularly in the touching song, "Easier to Love." Some of my favorite lyrics in the show are in this song: "Children want to hear the same story every night / Try that on your wife!"
Richard's daughter, Charlotte Maltby (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) brought the house down as Lizzie (the Liz Callaway role) with perhaps the show's most popular song, "The Story Goes On." She was also a standout in her songs with Charlie Franklin (THE BOOK OF MORMON) as Danny ("What Could Be Better" and "Two People in Love"), while Franklin delivered a sweet rendition of "I Chose Right."
It was nice to see an African American couple in the roles of Pam and Nick and equally nice to hear the role of Pam belted by Kenita R. Miller (ONCE ON THIS ISLAND). She was especially dynamic in "I Want It All" and moving in her duet with Nick, "With You." Antoine L. Smith (currently understudying Billy Bigelow in CAROUSEL) was outstanding as Nick. His voice is simply exquisite, with the ability to sing legit one moment and soulfully the next.
All of the performers seemed to relish acting and singing these songs, including the ensemble, who had a chance to show their ample talents in solo moments during "The Ladies Singing Their Song" and "Fatherhood Blues." They included Arjana Andris, Jorge Barranco, Hannah Dowdy, Marc Koeck, Scott Mikita, and Rebecca Spigelman.
BABY is a musical with more memorable songs than most, and every song is earned emotionally by its characters. That can't be said for every show. Unfortunately, this musical is little known today.
At times, I had to concede that the music sounded a bit dated in places, but I still felt this concert showed that BABY deserves a Broadway revival. In the absence of that, 54 Below's series of concerts like this celebrating new and forgotten musicals are a treasure and among the best shows the venue produces.
Melanie Votaw is a full-time freelance writer who has written 28 books. She covers travel, as well as theater, dance, and cabaret for BroadwayWorld. Follow her on Twitter @melanievotaw.