Theatre Review: ‘Baby’ at Lancaster Opera House

Having babies can be a messy business.  The question is whether a play about having babies would come to life on the stage.  The simple answer is yes.

. . .a delightfully easy on the eyes and ears production.

But if giving life were that simple, everybody would do it.  Not everybody can. And not everybody would, even if they could.   Lancaster Opera House does inject life in its production of the 1983 musical, Baby.  It has a lot going for it:  Let’s just mention the original Broadway production in the 1980s had several Tony Award nominations including best musical and original score.  While we’re at it, know that director Nathan Miller has brought together a very talented group of players/singers to labor out this lyrical journey from conception to birth.  

The play is about nine months in the lives of three couples, all facing the prospect of child birth before them.   First off is the young couple in idealistic love, dreaming of how their lives will go forward and determined to not let the birth of their child derail the trajectory of their real goals and dreams.  Next up is the established married couple, having tried to get pregnant for some time and, we learn at the start, appear to have finally been successful. And then there is the forty-something couple who, after having raised four children, find themselves unexpectedly pregnant with differing opinions on what lays ahead.   

Everything here is on time – actors, orchestra and sound, lighting, stage management – not a dim bulb, loose string, or wasted word in the bunch.  And while the main six players of the cast seem to share almost equal stage time ably, the apparent lead of Leah Berst, as Lizzie, one-half of the idealistic young couple, stands out as a strong and extremely talented voice.  Most of Lizzie’s duets are played alongside her love, Danny, played by Trevor Bunce. Between them, it’s hard to pick a better half. Together, they share a chemistry that is solid and convincing and, well, seemingly full of loving admiration.  They regard one another with a longing and passion that speak just below the lyrics and lines, of a pair truly in love, while never seeming to become melodramatic about any of it. These are joyful performances.

They are all for the most part joyful performances.  There are bits of sadness and tragedy in the plot, but in fact none of it appears melodramatic which, given the subject matter and the paths the characters take, seems like a possible pitfall expertly avoided.  There’s just enough clever realism here in script and lyrics, and all the actors keep it grounded there.

The emotion, splattered with a great deal of hilarity, uncertainty and downright joy, all come to life through some poignant, thought-provoking, and often hilarious lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.  And it’s all pulled off in a finely tuned fashion by Mr. Miller and crew.

If one were to pick out a weak note, it’s that while the characters seemingly come to us as three separate and random couples on three different, sometimes unexpected paths, the plot reveals to us that they had known one another previously.  It’s almost a too-small world — maybe, and a too-small point. We’re not after a strong plot here. We’re looking for the world made smaller by music.

And it is.  What’s more than plausible about “Baby” is the realism of these characters’ situations, how they cope, how they feel about them, the truths and insights they speak and sing of.  Certain not all the bases are covered. But regardless of whether you’ve been either half of a pregnancy, you’re likely to come away with some small notion of what it’s like to navigate that messy business.  And Mr. Miller and crew, the cast, and orchestra playing from the balcony, flooding the curved design of the Lancaster Opera House, come together in a delightfully easy on the eyes and ears production. It could not have been made more clean or entertaining.   

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Baby”  is currently running through March 3, 2019 and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House.  For more information, click here.