Charleston Stage Company
Running through April 29
The Dock Street Theatre
133 Church St.
When is it possible that a relatively good production can still make you regret a visit to the theatre? When you have a musical as schmaltzy and thin as Baby, one that you would easily forget if not for resenting the time spent on experiencing it.
Baby features three couples discovering they're going to have a baby. The unprepared Danny and Lizzie are juniors in college. Danny's coach Nick and his wife Pam have been wanting a baby very badly. College dean Alan and his wife Arlene's night of anniversary celebration has resulted in a fourth child.
Sybille Pearson wrote the book for Baby in 1983; watching the play, it seems maybe Pearson wasn't in touch even with the '80s. Her depiction of young Danny (Zack Knudsen), with his aspirations to be a musician, is ridiculous in its off-base guesses of what a hip young guy might be like. What college junior who admires Bob Dylan would sing "I walk along to a funky beat?" (Costume designer Barbara Young's cartoonish shredded T-shirt and sunglasses for Danny don't help that number). Even though the production team here has tried, bless 'em, a fauxhawk doesn't save Pearson's poor characterization. Of the three, Alan and Arlene's story is the only one that shows realistic development rather than silliness, contrived plot devices (such as mixed-up lab results a la Days of Our Lives), and thinly spread, barely connected events of no consequence.
Zack Knudsen somehow manages to make Danny realistic, with his natural movements, terrific singing, and solid acting. Unfortunately, he's also unbelievably, nauseatingly "sensitive."
Pearson's script has the three ladies meet at the doctor's office in one particularly obnoxious scene, and then conveniently separates them until the end with a throwaway excuse about Pam and Nick (Cory Miller and Brian Bogstad) being away for the summer. Pearson's flimsy storytelling is blatant throughout.
The songs by Richard Maltby Jr. (composer) and Richard Shire (lyricist) have no real feel to them — listening to them suggests an experience like listening to a mixed CD of unidentifiable theatre songs. A few stand out, but most are forgettable. (And there are some discombobulating transitions where serious situations lead into oddly breezy numbers.) The songs that do stand out are the group number "Baby, Baby, Baby" and "At Night She Comes Home to Me," a nicely performed duet between Danny and Nick. Also, a duet titled "And What if We Had Loved Like That?" between Alan (the smooth-voiced Ian Kay) and Arlene (an emotive Lesly Lamb) is one of the high points of the show.
Charleston Stage's production does a good job of showing the conflicting, changing emotions that come with impending parenthood — the roller coaster ride, the many trials. In Pearson's book, however, these characters are all pretty flat. Baby's not charming or heartwarming or even realistic enough to leave a good impression — rather, the themes get lost under the awful book and so-so score.
Julian Wiles' set design is simple yet conducive to the rolling passage of nine months, with the revolving three-sided set; however, it looks like he took a lot more care with Pam and Nick's bedroom than the others.
Wiles' direction provides active staging (aided by Jenny Ploughman's good choreography) which appears to try to rein in and stabilize Pearson's meandering script. Glenn Wheaton's musical direction and the live band's performance are accomplished, but during some numbers they overpower the voices.
There's nothing horribly wrong with Charleston Stage's production; Baby is just an immensely boring play.
And it isn't a case of being able to appreciate it more if you've had kids — this is just bad writing, whether you have kids or not. In fact, Baby is enough to make you not want to have kids; nobody would want to be like these couples. Trade stories with your fellow parent friends, or if you're kid-less, talk to people who do have them. Hell, talk to your parents and grandparents. You'll get better stories and funnier jokes.