'Baby': Witty look at parenthood

The cast very ably carried off the Tony Award-winning musical.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The musical "Baby" filled the Oakland Center stage with witty and colorful song-and-dance numbers, while throwing a warm light on the joys and conflicts that emerge as parenthood approaches.
In lighthearted fashion, the play, which opened Friday, exposed the humor and anxiety that many a mom and dad have dealt with alone. Perhaps that's because they didn't realize that every parent has had the same experiences.
"Baby" humorously lays it all out in the open. And because the play is so well-cast and vibrantly performed, couples in the audience might see themselves -- and even find it a bonding experience. At the very least, it's a sunny escape on a wintry weekend.
Three couples
The perennially popular play, which was nominated for seven Tony Awards after it premiered on Broadway in 1983, follows three expectant couples on a college campus who are at different stages of life.
Danny and Liz are about 20, unmarried, and still students. Nick and Pam, both around 30, are having difficulty conceiving. And Alan and Arlene are in their 40s, empty-nesters at last. The backdrop of ivy-covered brick walls drives home the campus setting.
While a college campus is a microcosm of the real world, it is a "safe" one, where idealism often trumps pragmatism.
It is, therefore, the perfect place for "Baby." The musical has no desire to unearth tragedy or ugliness. Instead, it stays on the common ground recognizable to all, and it manages this without being trite. The intertwined stories don't raise new issues, but just like the day when a baby finally arrives, they feel brand new.
Director Joanne Carney Smith does justice to the funny and insightful script, producing a tight and lively two-hour triumph. She uses an eight-person chorus to pump up the volume on the group scenes.
Stephanie Ottey, typically terrific, glows as Liz, bringing the perfect pitch to two memorable scenes. In the song "What Could be Better," delivered in bed with Danny, she reels off a highly amusing passage about how the daring and dashing "swimmers" fearlessly completed their mission of fertilization.
Later, a visibly pregnant Liz bemusedly deals with the overzealous moms in the park who can't control their urge to pat her belly in "The Ladies Singing Their Song."
Another crowd-pleasing scene takes place on a softball field, where Danny (Michael J. Moritz Jr., who also doubles as musical director), Alan (Ed Smith), Nick (Matthew White, possessor of a deep and powerful singing voice) and the male chorus members do a hilarious freestyle line dance in "Fatherhood Blues."
Geri DeWitt-Tichnor, who plays Arlene, radiates the wisdom of a veteran mom, while Sara Klimenko ably handles what might be the most unusual of the roles: a "jock" who is having difficulty getting pregnant.
"Baby" will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Oakland Center for the Arts, 220 W. Boardman St., downtown Youngstown. Call (330) 746-0404 for ticket information.

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