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A CurtainUp Review

By Liz Keill

LaChanze and Norm Lewis
Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn has brought a sprightly, infectuous musical to its stage in Baby. The musical, written about 20 years ago, never quite clicked on Broadway, but it continues to have an enduring charm and appeal for regional audiences. The plot centers on three couples, each experiencing some phase of prospective parenthood. Liz and Danny are two unmarried college students who have decided to live together. When she becomes pregnant, they both go through a sea change in attitudes and expectations.

Pam and Nick are a terrific looking couple and have been trying for two years to become parents. The pressures of following rigid formulas to "conceive" cause a rift in their relationship. Arlene and Alan already have four grown children, when, at the age of 43, Arlene becomes pregnant. That event turns their world upside down, with its stresses and strains on their marriage.

The cast is uniformly fine. Norm Lewis, as Nick, is certainly a stand out with his strong, powerful delivery and magnetic stage presence. His most recent stint was as Billy Flynn in Chicago on Broadway. He's ably matched by LaChanze as Pam. Their appealing "With You" has an honesty and relevance that hit home. (Unfortunately, when I was there, someone's cell phone went off during the number; as if that wasn't distracting enough, the person went up the aisle with the phone ringing.)

Moeisha McGill as Liz is often front and center and brings a high energy interpretation to the part. She takes a stunning solo turn at the end of Act I with "The Story Goes On." when glittering stars appear in the sky. Chad Kimball plays Danny, all nervous energy, intent on creating his own music. His heartfelt "I Chose Right" is lyrical and romantic. In addition, he moves into a "rock" persona as he looks for ways to support his child.

Carolee Carmello, who plays Arlene, will be familiar to Paper Mill audiences for her enchanting performance as Anna in The King and I. She has a raft of Broadway credits, including Kate in Kiss Me, Kate and Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Not only is her soprano lush, but her interpretation conveys the mixed emotions and turmoil of this unexpected pregnancy. Her solo "Patterns" speaks touchingly of loss and disillusionment.

Michael Rupert's Alan takes the possibilities of a second-time-around father to new heights. He's believable and earnest as a man who wants to make his wife happy, but doesn't quite know how. When he and Arlene join up with "And What If We Loved Like That" you feel all the history and years they've built in their "perfect," but not quite real, marriage.

Not to be overlooked is a wonderful scene in a doctor's office with Lenny Wolpe. Mr. Wolpe appeared impressively in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and as Herbie in Gypsy at the Paper Mill. Pam and Nick have come to consult him, but he's so busy with his contact lenses that he really can't read the charts. When he advises them, "It's a common problem" they end up more frustrated than before. At any rate, his comic timing is priceless.

Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill's artistic directed, directed and choreographed the show. "Fatherhood Blues" lets the cast strut its stuff, when the men gather for a baseball game, but instead complain about the annoyances of parenthood. Hoebee's love for this musical comes through in a myriad of small, intimate moments.

Baby has a lot of spark and snap. It's probably not the best musical ever written, but the couples and their problems are ones you learn to care about and each is worth rooting for. In addition, it's a pleasure to see a musical that hasn't been overdone and that has something to say about love and life and the human condition.

Baby Music: David Shire
Lyrics: Richard Maltby, Jr.
Book:Sybille Pearson
Director: Mark S. Hoebee
Cast: Carolee Carmello, Chad Kimball, LaChanze, Norm Lewis, Moeisha McGill, Michael Rupert
Set Design: Michael Anania
Lighting design: F. Mitchell Dana
Costume design: Thom Heyer
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes-- with intermission
Where: Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 973/0379-4343
Web site:
3/31/04 to 5/09/04

Reviewed by Reviewed by Liz Keill April 4, 2004
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