BWW Review: CVRep Presents an Engaging Production of the Musical, BABY

BWW Review: CVRep Presents an Engaging Production of the Musical, BABY
College students Lizzie and Danny (Melody Hollis and
Caleb Horst) discuss their unexpected pregnancy.

BABY, now playing at Coachella Valley Repertory (CVRep) is a sweet, sentimental musical about a universal topic - pregnancy. Despite what I consider to be flaws in the book (by Sybille Pearson) and lyrics (by Richard Maltby, Jr.), the show is well worth seeing; David Shire's music is engaging and CVRep has mounted an excellent production.

CVRep, until it moves into the new quarters for which it is fundraising (more about that later), is forced to work with a long, narrow stage not ordinarily conducive to musicals. Yet, Jimmy Cuomo (the imaginative set designer, assisted by Doug Morris) and Ron Celona (the top-notch director and choreographer) make the limited space work. Mr. Cuomo's set design includes a murphy bed and convertible furniture that allow scenes to take place in locations as varied as a ball field and a medical office. Yet the rooms in the three different homes that constitute the primary set manage to show the personalities of the characters who live there. Mr. Celona's choreography also makes the most of the venue, and allows the twirls and lateral moves that even a small-cast musical must present.

BWW Review: CVRep Presents an Engaging Production of the Musical, BABY
Arlene and Alan (Janna Cardia and Tom Andrew) have three college-age
daughters and an unplanned baby on the way.

The story focuses on three couples, each of whom receives word that the woman is pregnant. Neither the college juniors nor the parents of three college age daughters intended to have a baby at their respective stages of life. The stable thirty-somethings have been trying for two years and for them, the news that they are expecting generates unbridled joy. The story, which is funny, sentimental, and at some points, sad, contains genuine surprises.

My main objection to the book is that it is dated, e.g., references to celebrities who were in their prime decades ago, even though the events supposedly take place now. Despite updates in 2004 and minor changes since, such as a reference to Apple Siri and a female character's mention of her wife, there are still anachronisms. For example, the book's description of choices available to infertile couples does not include artificial insemination - to me, a glaring omission. Had the time been identified as 1983, when BABY ran on Broadway, I would not consider the outdated elements to be flaws, but anachronisms are like fingernails on chalkboards to me. (Yes, I know - my reference to chalkboards is itself an anachronism).

David Shire's music is lovely, and consists of a mixture of pop, jazz, and rock. Music director Scott Storr deserves kudos for the fabulous band performance (Mr. Storr on piano, Daniel Gutierrez on keyboard, Dave Hitchings on percussion, Doug McDonald on guitar, and Bill Saitta on bass guitar). (Disclosure: Daniel Gutierrez is one of my classmates in the College of the Desert theatre program). The lyrics, in contrast to the music, are hit or miss; I view a refrain consisting of the words "Baby, Baby, Baby" as embarrassingly simplistic and I can't figure out the relevance of the song "Patterns" to the story. On the other hand, the number that ends Act I, "The Story Goes On," and the hilarious "The Ladies Singin' Their Song" (about women on the street patting baby bumps and telling all the gory details of their own childbirth experiences) are fabulous.

BWW Review: CVRep Presents an Engaging Production of the Musical, BABY
Nick and Pam (Perry Ojeda and Erica Hanrahan-Ball)
have spent two years trying to have a baby.

The cast consists of three men and three women who play the main characters, as well as a four-person ensemble (Jaci Davis, Joseph M. Dahman, Jeff Stewart, and Giulia Ethel Tomasi), each member of which plays miscellaneous additional characters. All ten are fine actors and dancers. The singing is top-notch, especially for five of the six leads, although I did not particularly like the brash voice of Janna Cardia, who plays the 43-year-old woman. However, Melody Hollis (the female college student) has a lovely folk voice and Erica Hanrahan-Ball (the thirty-something) is a terrific belter. I also loved the mellifluous baritones of the three male leads (Tom Andrew as the middle-aged man, Caleb Horst as the college student, and Perry Ojeda as the thirty-something). Furthermore, Ms. Cardia more than makes up for any flaws in her singing with her fabulous acting and dancing skills; she and her stage husband (played by Mr. Andrew) ably carry the bulk of the dance load.

I have frequently lauded the expertise of CVRep's technical crew, and this show is no different. The rest of the technical crew consists of Moira Wilkie Whitaker (stage manager and lighting designer), Karen Goodwin (assistant stage manager and sound technician), Louise Ross (assistant stage manager), Aalsa Lee (costume designer), Cricket S. Myers (Sound Designer), and Lynda Shaeps (hair and makeup).

Despite my qualms regarding the book and lyrics, I recommend the CVRep production of BABY, which provides an enjoyable, funny evening, albeit with a few sad scenes. Nevertheless, the ending is upbeat, and people are likely to leave in a cheerful mood, having enjoyed the humor, acting, music, singing, dancing, and technical aspects of this well-presented show.

CVRep will run through February 12, 2017. CVRep's 2016-17 runs are now four weeks long instead of three, and include some Tuesday evening performances and an additional Saturday matinee. Evening shows start at 7:30pm, and matinees (Sat. & Sun.) start at 2:00pm. Individual ticket prices are $43 for previews, $58 for opening night, and $48 for all other performances.

CVRep is located in The Atrium, at 69-930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets for can be purchased by telephone at 760-296-2966; online at www.cvrep.org/tickets/; or in person at the box office. Box office hours are Mon-Fri 10:30-2:30 and 2 hours prior to each performance. For general information, go to www.cvrep.org.

This season's other offerings are:

DISGRACED (Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama)
By Ayad Akhtar
March 8-April 2, 2017
Mr. Celona calls this play, which examines Islamophobia, "my edgiest and most challenging of the season," both for him and the actors, and for the audience. A successful Pakistani-American lawyer and his white wife host a dinner party for an intermarried Jewish-Black couple, and the gloves come off. There will be a talk back session following every performance.

LATER LIFE
By A.R. Gurney
April 26-May 21, 2017
Comically, and sometimes painfully, two people rediscover each other and themselves later in life while a bevy of free-spirited people rally behind them and remind them of the infinite possibilities that life holds.

CVRep, a 501(c)(3) organization, is the only theatre in the Coachella Valley that has Small Professional Theatre status with Actors' Equity. As well as presenting its main stage productions, CVRep operates a conservatory and a children's program. CVRep is currently raising funds through a $6-million capital campaign to purchase the IMAX theater in Cathedral City, at the corner of Route 111 and Cathedral Canyon Boulevard, and to construct a 200-seat, modern theatrical venue on the site.

To contribute to the capital campaign, contact:
Andrea Spirtos, CFRE, Vice President of Development
(760) 296-2966 ext 107
aspirtos@cvrep.org

To contribute for CVRep's annual operations, contact:
Barbara Wolser, Director of Development
(760) 296-2966 ext 103
barbara@cvrep.org

Photo Credit: CVRep

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