“Baby,” the 1983 tuner that takes pregnancy to full-term, is celebrating its 20th anniversary at the Paper Mill. What appeared as innovative when the musical made its Broadway debut appears merely beguiling today. But an exceptionally bright, racially mixed cast brings a crisp, contemporary awareness to the piece. The intimacies of the couples and their emotional quandaries still resonate.
Moeisha McGill offers a compelling turn as Lizzie, an unmarried college student who stays at home during the early months of her pregnancy while her partner (Chad Kimball) tours with a punk rock band. She closes the first act experiencing the first rush of life within. “The Story Goes On” is a knockout number, and the show rarely rises again to that triumphant moment.
Nick (Norm Lewis) and Pam (LaChanze) appear as the African-American athletes who have difficulty conceiving. LaChanze has an amusing bit about the contorted positions recommended by the rule book in order to achieve success. The couple unite for a sweet commitment at the show’s end, “With You.”
Michael Rupert is Alan, the troubled older husband facing a midlife crisis when his wife, Arlene (Carolee Carmello), gets pregnant at 43. The couple have three grown kids, and Rupert gives a strong account of Alan’s confessional release with “Easier to Love.”
Carmello creates a touching portrait of the mature mother-to-be. The song “Promises,” cut from the original production, has been restored, and Carmello makes it a plaintively winning moment.
Mark S. Hoebee’s staging is appropriately fluid and his choreography humorously expressive, most notably in “Fatherhood Blues,” which unites the expectant dads in a joyous comic romp.
There is a funny turn by Lenny Wolpe as a fertility physician nursing a severe case of dry eyes. It seems a tad broad and out of place, and has precious little to do with plot development, but Wolpe brings enough inspired silliness to the cameo that it garners the biggest yuks of the show.
The score, with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and music by David Shire, is a richly textured account of the frustrations, fears and ultimate joys of parenthood. The songs are both witty and smart and often leap over Sybille Pearson’s book with clear insight into character definition.
The clean set is a slick, stylish and cunning improvement over the disturbing original. Instead of the bland white network of hospital curtains on overhead runners, and the diagrammed sperm count, designer Michael Anania has implemented sliding panels that maneuver this way and that, crossing the path of a functional double bed and minimal furniture.