There are moments in musical theatre when the sets become cumbersome and staging simply hampers the works on stage, which might explain the popularity of Reprise! Broadway's Best's Marvelous Musical Monday series at UCLA. Recalling the beginnings of Reprise!, which started as a concert type presentation, the Musical Monday shows carry on the tradition of actors taking to the stage with a script and not much else.
The latest offering was the Tony Award-nominated musical Baby, with a book by Sybille Pearson, music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. In a one night only production, an all-star Broadway cast took to the Freud Playhouse stage and tore through the emotionally charged play with mostly wonderful ease.
Surrounding the lives of three couples, linked through a chance meeting at a doctor's office, each finds the miracle of pregnancy and child birth to mean something exceptionally different. At times extremely heartbreaking, Baby does bounce from feelings of joy to sorrow in almost an instant, reflecting the often-turbulent nature of life.
Maltby and Shire's music is quickly recognizable, even for those never having heard the tunes before. "I Want it All" plays out like a wild feminist call to arms, while "The Story Goes On" provides an extremely sentimental moment when life is felt on many levels.
Of the three couples, it is the two drastically different pairs that steal the show, with Tony Award-winner Faith Prince (Guys and Dolls) as the oldest, Arlene, and Outer Critics-nominee Kerry Butler (Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors) as the junior member, Lizzie. Each faces the same dilemma, an unwanted pregnancy, yet each ultimately discovers starkly different meanings.
Butler came prepared to the semi-staged songfest, beaming on stage and grabbing the spotlight from her fellow Broadway vets. She has a certain perkiness that is hard to ignore, and accompanied by her amazing vocal range, Butler is nearly unstoppable.
Prince appeared slightly off her mark Monday evening, with a few numbers lacking the vitality she is known for possessing, but her chemistry with on-stage husband Alan, played by Christopher McDonald (Chicago), is able to compensate for her tame take on a 40-something pregnant woman.
Baby turned out to be a night for the ladies, as Tony Award-nominee Alice Ripley (Side Show, Sunset Boulevard) rounded out the pregnant trio in the role of middle-aged Pam, who upon discovering she is expecting, is the most welcoming of the bunch. Not that fate has happiness in store for all three couples. In the most hilarious moment of the show, Ripley winds up with her legs in the air spread wide, hoping to speed along conception with her husband Nick (Graham Rowat).
As McDonald, Rowat (Dracula, Beauty and the Beast) and Daniel Tatar (Reprise's Elegies) discover the wonders of pregnancy through the trials and tribulations of their wives, intuitive lessons are learned along the way. Unfortunately the men are not able to commandeer the stage from the leading ladies, but in a musical about pregnancy, perhaps the women deserve the final say.
With direction by Kevin Chamberlin and musical direction by Georgia Stitt, Baby allows for the actors to have fun, as was easily discernable from their performances. Chamberlin would have benefited from working slightly longer with his ensemble cast, as there were numerous moments of lines getting stepped on. Although, to their credit, the rehearsal time was brief, and the group, including Seth Belliston, Sue Goodman, Alix Korey, Michael Kostroff, Amy Ryder and John Sloman backed up the piece with a fairly high standard.
Next up for the Musical Monday series is It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman on Monday, May 14th. Tickets can be purchased at the UCLA Central Ticket Office by calling 310-825-2101. For more information on Reprise!, visit www.reprise.org.