The tree of life is full of sap. Some tap into it harder than others.
But "Baby" takes the cake.
The 1983 musical, by composer David Shire, lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. and book writer Sybille Pearson, is a favorite among its loyal contingency. Ask an actor who has done it -- which isn't hard (this might be the "Law and Order" of musical theater) -- why they like it. "I don't like 'Baby'; I love it," they'll say.
Audiences love it, too, judging from the number of times it is revived in Buffalo. The fact that Shire is a Buffalo boy, and has given back to his hometown with many visits and projects over the years, can't hurt. But the show's the thing: people adore it.
The Kaleidoscope Theatre closes its 10th anniversary season with "Baby." Director Lisa Ludwig has done nice work with her material, assembling a fantastic cast and giving them lots of room to have lots of fun. The more serious, most heartfelt, times are touching and that's where the appeal for this material is understood.
But elsewhere, it's a trick to make sense of the play. Dialogue is trite, and while you can forgive certain mechanical dialogue for the sake of theatrics, you can't skim over huge segments of relationship communication and replace it with songs that sound written by the Hallmark Channel. It's tough to find an authentic scene, even if some play more convincingly than others, thanks to this cast.
The show follows the ups and downs of three couples on the road to babyhood. The six characters spend most of their time on stage in their respective bedrooms, where celebration and argument are both within intimate proximity. But outside, they are needlessly woven together by the premise that they all spend their days at the same local college, some as students, and some as faculty.
They cross paths in the waiting room of the OB-GYN's office, but otherwise have little to do with each other. It's like watching a show about the people you see at the grocery store; you don't wish them harm, but you don't really care about them either.
In case you lose track of this, a Greek chorus of campus folk wander through scene transitions, regaling you with brief melodies about midterms and course registration. (The actors -- Nathan Miller, Karen Szalach, Geoff Pictor and Miranda Lombardo -- are all wonderful, each giving strong performances as incidental doctors and other professionals.)
Amy Jakiel and Jake Albarella play our youngest couple, two juniors who live in a tiny, off-campus apartment. They're our idealists and both bring innocence to their roles, making them truer to age than many college-age characters written for the stage.
Jakiel's bright singing voice anchors her character's gleeful youth, and Albarella is quick to juggle his wit and anxiousness. His reaction to his girlfriend's news is full of contradictions.
A couple in their 30s, both faculty in the school's athletic department, also cover their feelings, but with jokes and basketball tricks. Bobby Cooke and Beth Gerardi-Wharton are sweet together. They have that competitive streak between them that you see with athletic couples, which makes things interesting, but their material is the weakest among the three couples. They're having trouble conceiving, so their wacky doctor (wackier than necessary) prescribes them positions to try at home. It's tough to watch people negotiate such a thing while they're holding basketballs.
The couple that makes "Baby" worth leaning forward for, though, is our proverbial "old couple." They're not old, of course presumably in their early 50s, given the fact that they already have three grown kids -- but old in terms of the expected dramatic tension that will follow.
Real-life couple Gregory and Mary Coppola Gjurich play these endearing parts close to their own hearts. (Program biographies indicate that they are making their debuts in these roles, but have played the two other couples many times before.) Their performances feel the truest, centering the production. They play their bickering arguments with gut-wrenching pathos and their happiness with a sense of accomplishment.
Their performances, as well as the others, bring something unexpectedly beautiful to these one-dimensional roles, but unfortunately not enough to save what is a frustratingly simplistic piece of theater.
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
WHEN: Through June 23
WHERE: Presented by Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions at Medaille College, 18 Agassiz circle
INFO: www.kaleidoscopetheatre-productions.com, 479-1587