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BABY
Book by Sybille Pearson, Music by David Shire
Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.

PFAMILY ARTS

Directed by Ashley Puckett Gonzales and William R. Park
Musical Direction by Mark Mullino
Musical Staging by Jennifer Milner
Lighting by Aaron Johansen
Costumes by Kristin Moore


CAST

Delyhda Johnson Moravec - Narrator
Lindsay Lamberth - Lizzie
Michael Gasparro - Danny
Kelly Holmes - Pam
G. Shane Peterman - Nick
Linda K. Leonard - Arlene
Bill Jenkins - Alan






Reviewed Performance 4/7/2011

Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Nestled deep in a Plano shopping village (keep looking, you'll find it!) lies PFAMILY ARTS. Half art gallery and half theatre space, their mission is to provide performing and visual arts, broadening their availability and acceptance and to produce productions available for the North Dallas area. Currently playing is the Richard Maltby/David Shire musical, Baby, which is appropriately about having . . . babies.

In their typical verbosity, Maltby and Shire tell the story in song of three couples having, trying to have or very surprised to be having a baby. Each of the couples ? the young, unmarried college students, the married couple who cannot conceive and the couple of three grown children who find themselves pregnant again ? goes through the expected emotional roller coaster of want, doubt, ability and fear a new life will bring into their lives.

Upon reading the Directors' ? Ashley Puckett Gonzales and William R. Park ? playbill notes, and watching the musical, it was obvious Baby was a project close to their hearts and personal experiences. That closeness to the subject matter made Baby an endearing production with some exceptional singing and a few outstanding singers.

The theatre at PFAMILY ARTS was a very large black box space with a wide raised stage area and long rows of folding chair seating (bring a pillow!) The set was primarily yards and yards of what seemed to be plastic tarping painted a pinkish beige skin tone.

From the playbill, Gonzales and Park stated they went back to the original Broadway version's idea of an all encompassing womb. Completely understanding their concept, this set did nothing for the production and, after awhile, was a bit unpleasant, bland, and then forgettable.

There was the usual dialogue between songs and all the actors were adequate but it was the songs that made the show work, with music and lyrics the complexity of Sondheim's and some of the quality of Wicked. Maltby and Shire wrote seventeen songs (with reprises) for Baby and the cast of seven was more than well-prepared for the challenge. I had not heard any of them sing before and was pleasantly impressed with their abilities.

Under the talented musical direction and piano accompaniment of Mark Mullino, beautiful lyric sopranos, tenors and baritones rang through the space.

In order of the couples, Lindsay Lamberth and Michael Gasparro as youngest couple, Lizzie and Danny, had the best onstage chemistry and their voices blended so smoothly. Lamberth's solo, The Story Goes On, was a teary, powerful close to Act I. Kelly Holmes and G. Shane Peterman, as Pam and Nick, sang two lovely duets, Romance and With You, that highlighted them both and while Holmes had some pitch problems, Peterman's rich, deep "musical theatre lead" voice resonated through the space. Playing the empty nester couple, Arlene and Alan, real life couple Linda K. Leonard and Bill Jenkins had, quite naturally, the best acting scenes together. Where their voices shone best was in duet or ensemble with the other singers. Delyhda Johnson Moravec was kept busy as Narrator, who moved the action along in song, played several costumed characters, and assisted each scene change. It was a feat of endurance and one to be applauded.

I love male duets and outstanding work was done between Gasparro and Peterman in At Night She Comes Home to Me. Equally as beautiful was the male trio's Fatherhood Blues, a funny yet revealing look into these men's feelings toward their future. For me, however, the most beautifully sung piece was by Lamberth, Holmes and Leonard on The End of Summer. Their voices harmonized with pinpoint accuracy and, staged right, left and center, their precise timing on each long, slow note was amazing. Truly, each and every song had moments and the musical was wonderfully crafted.

Set pieces ? rolling bed, bench, chairs, small table and huge bean bag ? came and went with the book's innumerable scene changes and again, added little to the performance and were a bit distracting to the story. Lighting by Aaron Johansen was generic with three main playing areas and some odd color spots across the down center stage floor.

Costumes by Kristin Moore were everyday apparel, appropriate for each character's occupation and age, and fit as though each actor had chosen them from their own closets.

These seven actor/singers were highly professional and talented and the production of Baby was enjoyable, but only to a point, which was beyond the actor's control. The overwhelming challenge for them was 100 percent in the mechanics of both the theatre space and the set. PFAMILY ARTS room was cavernous with an echo to match. Because it was open to the bare walls, without any curtains there or onstage to absorb the reverberation, many of the songs were difficult to near impossible to understand. Their voices bounced off the plastic backdrops and pianist Mullino had to pound the piano to be heard by the singers, further drowning them out. Many of the spoken words and songs were yelled, which had to tire the actors. And, as blocked with the set pieces, singers, and in particular Peterman, frequently had to sing completely upstage, obscuring their faces and voices.

I believe Gonzales and Park did not fully take into consideration the space's limitations. Hung blacks, to section off a large part of the room would help muffle the overpowering echo factor. Moving the audience in much closer with shorter rows would add needed intimacy to the intimacy of the subject. Finally, eliminating all the superfluous set pieces, keeping some of the costume accessories and performing down stage, in musical theatre concert style, piano onstage, would tighten the show, drop a good 15 minutes or more of scene change time and would more powerfully accentuate the songs and the story.

Please note that those suggestions were mere refinements on an already solid production. Baby seemed best suited for, of course, young couples starting a family, but also for anyone who was in love, who had been in love, or wanted to be in love ? and that is pretty much all of us, isn't it! Good songs, great singing and an endearing human story made for a nice time of theatre and music on a warm spring evening.




BABY
PFAMILY ARTS , 4017 Preston Road, #544 ,Lakeside Market,
Plano, TX 75093
runs through April 16th

Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, with
Saturday matinees at 2:30pm. Tickets are $25 for adults and
$15 for students and seniors.

*Ask if you can bring bottled water or soda as there is no
concession at intermission. For information email
info at pfamilyarts.org and for tickets, call 972-378-1234.