WASHINGTON “Hallelujah, Baby!” won the musical Tony in 1968, but a reworked revival staged by Arthur Laurents received tepid notices from D.C. crix following its opening last week at Arena Stage.
Featuring music by Jule Stein, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and book by Laurents, “Baby” followed the travails of an African-American woman through a 60-year period of racial discrimination and other adversity. In this co-production by Arena and the George Street Playhouse of New Brunswick, N.J., Laurents has stretched the journey to current times, altered the ending and made other changes.
A song cut from the original has been reinserted and some new lyrics have been penned by Green’s daughter, Amanda. The tuner’s cast has been cut from 20 to an economical nine.
But several local critics found little to sing about. The Washington Post’s Peter Marks called it an “unexciting new production” that “confirms its value mainly as an artifact.” It contains “moments of inspiration,” he said, but criticized “its sense of moral superiority” and said Stein’s score “takes scant advantage of the (show’s) broadly entertaining possibilities.”
The Baltimore Sun’s Judy Rousuck praised some perfs, especially Suzzanne Douglas in the lead role of Georgina, originated by Leslie Uggams. But she said the show contains little depth, “a major difficulty considering the weightiness of the material.” She said the score includes several standouts.
Jayne Blanchard of the Washington Times called it “a sputtering co-production” that is plagued by “mighty lapses in logic.” She found it incongruous that the weighty story about race relations in America would be enlivened by “broad grinning and shucking and jiving,” especially since the show “bears not a trace of irony or satirical edge.”