Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: A bouncing ‘Baby, the Musical' in De Pere

Play-by-Play Theatre

DE PERE, Wis. -  

The difference between singing a song and selling a song is this:

Singing: All the notes and words flow nicely with a pleasing voice and warm result.

Selling: All the notes and words flow intensely and earnestly with a revved-up voice and sha-ZAM result.

A perfect example of selling is in “Baby, the Musical” presented by Play-by-Play Theatre, a professionally minded company, in five more performances in Webb Theatre of Abbot Penning Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College.

The musical from 1980s Broadway is a showbiz take on having a baby. Three couples hear the news, and their stories are played out individually and through some intertwining.

The selling/sha-ZAM comes in the song “The Story Goes On” that closes the first act. It’s delivered by Elizabeth McMonagle as Lizzie, around whom much of the forward progress of the show revolves.

Quick glimpses:

+ Lizzie and her musician-boyfriend, Danny (Greg Pragel), are university juniors. Among their quandaries about having a baby, Lizzie is determined to never marry even though Danny desires so.

+ Meantime, Pam (Corrie Kovacs) and Nick (Steve Kovacs) are elated about the news because they have wanted a child for years. Pam’s joy fires the song “I Want It All” that becomes infectious.

+ Meantime meantime, Arlene (Rita Baretta) and Alan (Lyle Becker) aren’t so sure about having another baby, being that they are new empty nesters with three grown daughters and Arlene is 43 and weighing new options in her life.

From those starting points, the authors explore a bunch of what-ifs for the characters, told through songs with various types of flair and expression.

The singing is solid all around and especially keen by McMonagle (energy, color) and Corrie Kovacs (sometimes delivered upside down lying in a bed and with a comically put-on French accent).

One of the interesting things about this production is the backdrop, which is eye-catching. To the rear of the band (on stage) is a two-story display that includes, between stage-type curtains, panels with a ripple effect that gives the impression of cotton candy blown onto a fine-mesh screen. Changing colors of light are splashed on the panels, starting with aqua and mauve. The screen/cotton-candy effect is repeated on eight-foot panels placed on either side of an all-white queen-size bed that’s central in many scenes.

The show includes the birds and the bees stuff that’s minorly earthy. What could be daunting medical textbook material in one scene becomes comical when the doctor (Parker Drew, in a nifty turn) battles new contact lenses as he tries to read Pam and Nick’s examination results.

One of the production’s showpieces revolves around Lizzie, her pregnancy obvious, being set upon by strangers who consider themselves experts – the ladies in the town. As Lizzy sings about her situation of unwanted advice, colorful harmony emerges in “The Ladies Singing Their Song” from Susan Elliott, Michelle Oren and Carolyn Silverberg, with McMonagle. “Little” roles suddenly take flight.

This is a sturdy production that blends New York-based talent with area talent with homegrown talent in a show that has either been rarely done, and possibly never done, in this area.

Program notes underline the importance of “Baby, the Musical” to artistic director/show director Mary Ehlinger. She writes of how she and Mark Silverberg exchanged wedding vows to the song “With You” from this show 29 years ago Dec. 3. Company co-founder Mark Silverberg died May 2 of this year due to cancer. She says Play-by-Play Theatre “was his ‘baby’.”

***

Creative: Music – David Shire; lyrics – Richard Maltby Jr.; book – Sybille Pearson, based on a story developed with Susan Yankowitz; director – Mary Ehlinger; scenic coordinator – Corey Pinchart; lighting design – Ivy Covaciu; sound design – Chad Bishop; technical director – Drew Arnold

Cast: Lizzy Fields – Elizabeth McMonagle; Danny Hooper – Greg Pragel; Pam Sakarian – Corrie Kovacs; Nick Sakarian – Steve Kovacs; Arlene McNalley – Rita Baretta; Alan McNally – Lyle Becker; Nurse – Carolyn Silverberg; Doctor – Parker Drew; Prof. Weiss – Warren Elliott; Mrs. Hart – Michelle Oren; Ladies in the town – Carolyn Silverberg, Susan Elliott, Michelle Oren

Band: Conductor – Mary Ehlinger; piano – Elaine Moss; bass – Tony Pesavento; guitar – Matt Hayes; drums – Parker Drew

Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes

Remaining performances: 2:30 p.m. Nov. 26; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2

Info: snc.edu/tickets and playbyplaytheatre.org

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“We Start Today” – Lizzy, Danny, Alan, Arlene, Nick, Pam, Nurse

“What Could Be Better?” – Danny, Lizzie

“The Plaza Song” – Alan, Arlene

“Baby, Baby, Baby” – Nick, Pam, Alan, Arlene, Danny, Lizzie

“I Want It All” – Pam, Lizzie, Arlene

“At Night She Comes Home to Me” – Nick, Danny

“Fatherhood Blues” – Danny, Alan, Prof. Weiss, Nick

“Romance” Part I – Nick, Pam

“I Chose Right” – Danny

“The Story Goes On” – Lizzie

Act II

“The Ladies Singing Their Song” – Lizzie, Women in the Town

“Patterns” – Arlene

“Romance” Part II and III – Nick, Pam

“Easier to Love” – Alan

“Two People in Love” – Danny, Lizzie

“And What If We Had Loved Like That?” – Alan, Arlene

“With You” – Nick, Pam

“The Story Goes On” (Reprise) – Company

 

***

THE VENUE: The 184-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had a lot of friends in the community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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