Lyricist/director Richard Maltby and composer David Shire have done a fair bit of work outside the musical theater — Shire has done movie scores, Maltby has written screenplays — but their work as a team has gained them an interesting identity on Broadway. Revue-type fare has been their strength: for example, 1977's Starting Here, Starting Now, which established them as purveyors of material that rivaled Sondheim, at least in the "clever" department.
Nominations for major awards have been plentiful, yet the boffo Manhattan musical hit has eluded them. The nearest thing to a Maltby/Shire blockbuster was 1983's Baby, an opus that explores what happens when three couples within the same college community find themselves pregnant.
In an age of intensified focus on gay marriage, Baby almost seems like a throwback, with Sybille Pearson's book playing warmly but realistically into the conventional family paradigm. Street Theatre's new production ably captures the show's intent, though the individual performances are uneven.
One song lyric, "What a journey, what a ride!" emerges as the mantra, as Danny and Lizzie (college students), Nick and Pam (thirtysomething college coaches) and Alan and Arlene (fortysomething professor and wife) all face impending parenthood.
The 80-minute first act provides the surprise-filled setup, including some unexpected twists in the couples' fortunes. Those in turn result in Act 2's collision of complex emotions and some truly dramatic musical numbers, which balance out the expected material riffing on the comical aspects of maternity and the way parenthood can change lives.
The score — mostly solos, duets and trios — is rhythmic and harmonically sophisticated, and squarely places Maltby/Shire in the post-Sondheim camp. More tellingly, their work here demonstrates they were influential precursors of Broadway composers such as Jonathan Larson (Rent) or Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years). (Alas, there are a fair number of dated references in these lyrics.)
The ensemble of 12 is generally on point under Elizabeth Hayes' direction, but it's the six principals that matter most. With songs like "And What If We Had Loved Like That" and "Patterns," Nancy Allen and Scott Rice provide the show's mature reflection and its most moving vocal efforts. Laura Crockarell and Bakari King, both strong performers typically, are saddled with rather offbeat character roles — plus the somewhat daunting task of playing at romance while making love under doctor's orders. (One funny bit exposes a clear update to the original '80s script: As Crockarell prepares for sex, King reads Moby Dick to her ... on a Kindle.)
The young couple are portrayed by Billy Seger and Tonya Pewitt. They get their fair share of songs both sentimental and slightly cynical — "Fatherhood Blues," "Two People in Love" — and belt them out with passion. The marginally saccharine nature of the material isn't their fault, but it doesn't help that Seger's performance is undercooked, or that Pewitt's Broadway-style voice, distinguished by an impressive vibrato, can veer slightly into sharpness or flatness.
On balance, STC's Baby provides a pleasant diversion. It's a well-crafted vehicle that sustains a mostly one-dimensional idea, and when the cast is executing the better numbers with confidence, it entertains.
Dinner was served
Randi Michaels Block's Guess Who's Coming to Seder? concluded its brief but worthy three-show run last weekend at the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Bellevue.
Good houses enjoyed Block's original musical centering on a Passover Seder that gets spiced up by comical gentile characters. It's a fertile idea — religion and family tradition conflicting with contemporary social realities — and most of Block's craftsmanship impresses. (She wrote it all — book, music and lyrics.)
Seder is just now emerging from the workshop stage. If Block expects it to advance, a few script tweaks would help. Currently, it reads like neither a full-blown revue nor a fully integrated book musical, and the lead character's personal quest would seem to require more development. The songs are consistently well-crafted, though, exploiting a variety of styles with general success.
With an energetic and colorful cast working the material, this recent mounting had many enjoyable passages. The biggest performing surprise was Nashville newcomer Tatum Harvey, whose engaging presence and vocals enlivened the pivotal role of Sarah Friedman. Other significant contributions were made by country star Lari White (who rips through an unlikely torcher called "Connecticut"), Charlynn Carter (with "Never Pay Retail"), Francine Berk ("Taking Chances") and Jonathan Scott Roth ("Chopped Liver With Gefilte Fish"). Two group numbers, "Oy Vey" and "The Prayer," also impressed.