Expecting More from Incline’s ‘Baby’

In spite of the potential of the year-old Incline Theater, Baby has an air of amateurism in its production values.

Jul 13, 2016 at 12:44 pm
Danielle Muething and Matt Dentino in Baby - Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Danielle Muething and Matt Dentino in Baby

The medley of recorded pre-show tunes playing prior to the opening of Baby at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater runs an odd gamut from Into the Woods’ “Children Will Listen” to Paul Anka’s “(You’re) Having My Baby.” But that’s kind of how this show works — or doesn’t. It’s a musical from the mid-1980s about the travails of pregnancy, and it’s all over the map in its storytelling.

There’s a young marriage-averse couple, Lizzie (Erin Niebuhr) and Danny (Kyle Quinlivan), who are unexpectedly expecting; they’re juniors in college, so what their future holds is unclear. Arlene (Danielle Muething) and Alan (Matt Dentino), a college professor, are well into their 40s, having raised three daughters; the path to an empty nest they had imagined is disrupted by an “oops.” Tomboy Pam (Jessica L. G. Steuver) and sports instructor Nick (Charlie Harper), happily married and ever so eager, are having a tough go at getting pregnant.

The disparate stories and fates of these relationships and the potential for parenthood comprise the narrative of this show, navigating the joys and sorrows of how having a child can change lives and relationships. It’s an intriguing concept for a musical, but it was way off the norm in the 1980s when most Broadway hits were big spectacles, so it had a less-than-memorable Broadway run.

Since then, it’s become a popular show for community theaters because it employs actors of varying ages and has a fine score composed by David Shire with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. 

The show also uses a half-dozen or so other performers who portray “The People in the Town,” filling an array of small roles (a distracted doctor, a couple of softball buddies, several nurses) and serve as the chorus. At the Incline, these folks also serve as stagehands, constantly rearranging set pieces into various slightly different configurations as the story shifts between the three couples. The effort is made necessary by the parallel stories, but rolling and positioning three walls and a bed in numerous slightly different positions ultimately becomes a distraction.

The script for Baby by Sybille Pearson (from a story by Susan Yankowitz) never settles on whether it’s a drama or a sitcom. Two couples face daunting relationship challenges stemming from the advent of pregnancy — Arlene and Alan consider abortion without ever employing the word, and Pam and Nick learn the perils of infertility. 

Even the sweet young couple hit some major bumps in the road because they’re still figuring out what they want from life, and a baby was not on their map. Those circumstances, however, are too often undermined by predictable silliness and stereotypical humor that trivialize or sidetrack more serious undercurrents, and several serious situations are too easily resolved.

Maltby and Shire’s songs are the show’s best elements, and the six actors — all good singers — do good work with several memorable tunes. “I Want It All,” the spunky (and naïve) number by the three women in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, has some great energy as Lizzie, Pam and Arlene envision their futures without too much heed for the exigencies and demands of parenthood. 

Niebuhr and Quinlivan have several numbers that succeed both on their singing talents and on the pure emotion being expressed, and Niebuhr’s solo rendition of the first-act closer, “The Story Goes On,” delivers the most dramatic wallop of the production. Steuver and Harper are especially fine as the infertile couple singing “Romance,” romantically in Act 1 and reprised with frustration in Act 2.

Baby is a curious choice for the Incline’s “Summer Classics Season.” Although the show has been around for more than three decades, it’s hardly a classic — the title managed to fill about half of the Incline’s seats on opening night. 

Finally, in spite of the potential of the year-old Incline Theater, Baby has an air of amateurism in its production values, a quality that prevailed understandably in its predecessor, the limiting confines of Showboat Majestic. It’s time for the Incline to shake off those moorings and set sail toward a higher standard.

BABY, presented by Cincinnati Landmark Productions at the Incline Theater, continues through July 31. Tickets/more info: cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.