BWW Review: Cute and Cuddly BABY Charms at Whippoorwill Theater
A compact musical like Baby is tailor-made for a local theater company like The Armonk Players.
Best described as a cross between a book musical and a revue, Baby essentially is a series of sketches that are by turns compassionate and comic, chronicling the adventurous journey expectant mothers and their mates take toward the "miracle of birth."
This production is performed by a solid cast that gives its all to a bright, pop pastiche of a score that consistently lands, with the accompaniment of four instrumentalists - on piano (music director Dave Condon), guitar (Steve DeMott), drums (Doug Craig), and bass (Dave Edwards, Dylan Spielvogel). The sets too are minimalist, with only a handful of off-the-shelf props needed to create a serviceable sense of place - much of it taking place on and around a king-size bed.
Baby runs through Sunday, May 19, at the elegant and homey Whippoorwill Theater, adjacent to North Castle Public Library in the village of Armonk (ArmonkPlayers.org).
It might sound a tad precious to dub Baby cute and cuddly, but that's meant as a compliment. Its touchy-feely storyline follows three unrelated couples as they anticipate the cold realities of parenting.
From Youthful Exuberance to Greying Gravitas
Drawn in very broad strokes, the characters serve mainly as agents of demography and emotional arcs: ingenuous and exuberant college students Lizzie and Danny (Rachel Schulte and Bret Fox) arrive at the realization that marriage and child-rearing are anything but kids' stuff ("It will live with us for 18 years and won't just eat pizza for dinner"); eager to conceive, fun-loving 30-something couple Pam and jokester husband Nick (Georgia DeFalco and Miguel Acevedo) find out, to his macho chagrin, that he's been "shooting blanks"; finally, adding a sober dose of slightly-greying gravitas to the mix, an unplanned pregnancy forces 40-50ish Alan and Arlene (Bob Filipowich and Lisa Spielman) to come to terms with their marital past -- and future.
The triptych of stories - with book by Sybille Pearson -- reflects the familiar beats and cultural touchstones that are the sum and substance of many a life experience. That conveniently forms a heartfelt connection with a range of ages in the audience.
Along the way, we are treated to a rainbow of sentiments, and an entertaining mélange of clever songs in assorted genres (pop, rock, ballads, doo-wop).
Fiercely independent Lizzie is unnerved, while shopping, by a veritable chorus line of female strangers who just want to touch her baby bump. When they all proclaim, in song, "I can't stand pain," the women in the audience responded with the resounding affirmation of applause.
Nick, Alan, and punk rock musician Danny are joined by their softball teammates in comically wailing the "Fatherhood Blues."
Somber Contemplation of What Might Have Been
By contrast, in two numbers -- a solo by Alan, who somberly contemplates how children seem "Easier to Love" than spouses, and a duet by him and Arlene, who together somberly contemplate "And What If We Had Loved Like That" - the often inevitable misgivings that attend our lives are tenderly rendered.
I found the Arlene-and-Alan moments the most affecting, perhaps because I related age-wise more with these two more -- ahem! -- mature characters. In those roles, where the acting is as critical to audience buy-in as the performers' musicality, the excellent Ms. Spielman and Mr. Filipowich movingly instill their exchanges with a gentle pathos.
As we witness each of them recounting what she and he might have done better to forge a stronger marriage, for couples in the audience, it is an inducement to self-introspection. Theater is never more powerful than when it causes you to examine your own life choices.
As Nick, who is prone to bursting into impressions of Ralph Kramden and Groucho Marx, Miguel Acevedo exudes a teddy bear warmth and likability. Similarly, Georgia DeFalco, as wife Pam, invites easy empathy. Their ability to break through the sketchily written roles culminates in Nick, humbled by his fertility problems, asking Pam, "Please hold me." That's lump-in-the-throat time.
Real Men Are Vulnerable Men
All three hopeful fathers-to-be in Baby are vulnerable, and not averse to showing it. That is, for my money, attractive in any man. A truer sign of masculinity than illusory bravado is a man's courage to own up to his own emotions and work through them, without pointing a finger elsewhere.
The canny casting of all six principals, and their well-matched chemistry as couples, is a credit to director-choreographer Tom Coppola. Bret Fox's lovestruck Danny is a high-octane blend of teen angst and confidence. Like a bouncing ball on stage, he is fun to watch. As grounded girlfriend Lizzie, Rachel Schulte displays impressive acting chops in shading her up-and-down dealings with Danny. She brings down the house, and the Act I curtain, by belting out the show's signature song, "The Story Goes On."
Other highlights include the mothers-to-be spirited anthem "I Want It All," and the opening number, "We Start Today."
There is much to savor in the rest of the score as well, most of whose numbers are book songs and novelty numbers: rather than aspiring to the status of pop standard, these songs are tightly knit into the fabric of the stories that play out. David Shire's music can be toe-tapping, soulful, or soothing, while lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr.'s evocative lyrics weave vivid images while staying simple and relatable. The production numbers, while modest, also are full of fun when the situation calls for levity.
No spoilers here as to what happens to the respective couples by the final curtain. But it's not a spoiler to say that during the last scene I noticed the lady to my left wiping away a tear or two. She wasn't the only one. Somebody in my seat was doing the same.