NOTE: I can’t believe it’s been ten years! I had several ideas for my “L” post for the A-to-Z Challenge until I decided that I wanted to feature my favorite artist, Lea Salonga. I wanted to post either what I wrote before about her anniversary concert that I attended or my story on how I met her face to face and my little anecdote about it. Truth is I couldn’t find them. But I found THIS and I don’t mind sharing it at all 🙂 I’m just surprised that I read that the production was back in 2004. Time sure does fly!
By the way, I know “L” comes before “M,” but I’m just making up for what I missed. Cut me some slack 🙂
Reality is, what drew most of Atlantis Productions’ BABY The Musical‘s audience to march to Meralco Theater – literally from the gate to the building for this writer – consists of two words and five syllables: Lea Salonga. She was, of course, a big crowd-drawer. The posters said it all. “Lea Salonga in BABY The Musical.”
But what made people smile afterwards, long before the show was over, was a combination of four things: Lea, the story, the music, and the whole production itself. More than any one of the audience asked for or expected. I, for one, while excited about watching a musical, only psyched myself to enjoy watching the actress should the show proved the opposite of engaging. Oh, but it was engaging! And I had nothing to worry about.
Richard Maltby Jr.‘s BABY The Musical tells the story of three couples – Lizzie Fields (Salonga) and Danny Hooper (David Shannon), Pam (Agot Isidro) and Nick Sakarian (Jett Pangan) , and Arlene (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) and Alan McNalley (Miguel Faustmann).
Couple Number One. Lizzie and Danny, both in college, are living in together. They get the shock of their lives when the stork suddenly decides to drop them a visit and leave a gift. The practical and organized world of Lizzie is suddenly invaded by a third party, by the discovery that she is pregnant. It would make for a typical story. Guy finds out, guy runs away. But no. Instead, Lizzie is the one afraid of making the commitment and doing what Danny deems necessary, which is to get married. For Lizzie, “I don’t wanna get married because I don’t wanna get a divorce!” While she is prepared to be with Danny and raise the baby, marriage is not something she wants to say yes to.
(See and hear Lea perform with Liz Callaway Lizzie’s song “The Story Goes On” below)
Couple Number Two. Pam and Nick is a couple in their 30’s, married for two years, and still childless. Suddenly, it seems their prayers are answered. Pam, after a visit from the hospital, informs her husband that she is finally pregnant! The already-happy couple is now much happier. Finally, a baby!…The celebration is short-lived, however. They soon find out that, yes, Mrs. Sakarian is with child, only it is Nick’s sister-in-law. Having failed, they decide to consult a doctor and soon find out the cause. Then follows the hilarious attempts to conceive and the conflict that goes with the problem.
Couple Number Three. Arlene and Alan McNalley, in their 40’s, are prepared for a lifetime of being “TWO”, that is a family minus all their three kids. Arlene looks forward to finally having time alone with her husband at last, having sent their youngest child off to college. She is in, however, for a rude awakening. As said, “…a night of unexpected passion lands them back where they started” …Pregnant! Alan is overwhelmed with joy. Arlene, unfortunately, obviously isn’t. A new baby in the family just isn’t what she needs now, not anymore.
To be honest, a part of me was really interested in seeing the show because of the premise. Why wouldn’t BABY be interesting? It is, after all, about relationships between men and women, and particularly about the responsibility that often follows – raising children. As Maltby said, BABY is about that something that is not really rare and, yet, is often taken for granted…Or something like that.
Based on the book by Sybille Pearson, the musical does not only tell of interwoven stories, oftentimes “told” with humor. Behind the laughs, however, lie the serious problems that come with having a baby and that need to be addressed. It tackles concerns such as pre-marital sex, living in, women’s lib, sterility, age, and yes, even abortion. Etcetera. Not all of these are directly mentioned throughout the course of the play, nor does it tend to be preachy. You’d have to be dumb, though, not to notice the subtle hints at times. Either that or you were sleeping.
Lea as Lizzie was perfect. Playing a 20-year-old didn’t seem to be a “STREEETCH,” unlike what she herself said. Not at all. The voice was as crystal clear as ever, both in singing and speaking. That is a trait that sets her apart from most actors today and makes her Number One in many people’s books. And man, did I laugh when she danced and bounced, big belly and all! No wonder Julie Andrews loves her voice…Lea. You just gotta love her.
David was convincing, as well, as Danny. Listening to him sing reminded me of the character Chris in Miss Saigon. Oh, but wait. He did play Chris in the U.K Tour of M.S.! Four things I like about the guy: he sings well, he sang “I Chose Right,” he played Rum Tum Tugger and Marius in a CATS and a Les Miserables production respectively, and he is married to an equally talented Filipina artist, Ima Castro! And – oh! – he signed the cover of my Collector’s Edition CD, so that makes it five! Well, his presence in the theater scene is surely welcome and appreciated.
From the role of Schrintze in Fiddler on the Roof in 1978 to this year’s Arlene, Miss Menchu has indeed proved her mettle in the business. It seems I liked that mettle and it has made a fan out of this writer. Listening her do the solo piece “Patterns” gave me the goosebumps, the very good kind of goosebumps. Despite that she is a great actress, though, she still did not come across as forty-ish, which Arlene should have been, and which she actually is. Miss Menchu, with all that faux curly locks that were intended to make her appear 43, is really a very beautiful woman who looks much younger than she actually is. So I guess this comment is more of a good kind of negative response, if you know what I mean.
Mister Faustmann was actually my problem. Of course, he was a good actor. His recent awards say it all. The show, however, did not showcase much of his singing talent. He did have his own solo, ”Easier To Love,” which I liked, but it was not much to give me the same kind of goosebumps as aforementioned. Not his fault, I know. It just was not meant to be goosebump-y, but rather a humorous take on and comparison between love for a spouse and love for a child. Guess which is easier.
The show bared two revelations, namely Jett and Agot.
Pre-theater, the only songs that I could remember The Dawn frontman singing were not really that impressive, for me, at least. But ever since I found out his stints in shows such as The Rocky Horror Show and Tick, Tick, Boom!, I had been interested in seeing him perform. Whoah, baby! The show gave me the opportunity to hear the man, and boy, was I surprised! All I can say is he has got one of the best voices that I ever heard, ever! Jett could act as well, bringing the house down with his portrayal of funnyman Nick. On both occasions that I watched (yes, I watched it twice), he got the audience clapping wildly at curtain call.
Agot, like I said, was quite a revelation as well. Onstage, the prim and proper lady we had come to know suddenly transformed into a funny, kikay, and yes, daring woman. Well, at least, more daring than the usual Agot. The novice among them (she recently starred in her first musical, Trumpets’ Honk!), she held her own against the more seasoned actors. She has become a better actress and a better singer as well. The sporty persona of her character Pam, though, just was not Agot. For a basketball coach, she sure played ball like – should I say it? – a girl. But it was not a major concern, anyway, so who actually cared?
The whole story would not be complete without the Ensemble. Very special mention to the great people who provided all sorts of characters that helped mold the whole story and piece it together. The show was not found wanting, what with such great talents such as Chari Arespacochaga, Cathy Azanza, Topper Fabregas, Christine Sambeli-Marquez, Jun Ofrasio and Robie Zialcita (whose doctor was quite a riot with Nick and Pam). Most of them are theater veterans. Kumbaga, ‘di matatawaran ang galing. (In other words, their great talents are all worth it.)
My only complaint was during ”The Ladies Singing Their Song,” most of the ladies didn’t look their part. The tennis women and the woman with ten kids did sound older but looked much younger. I mean, I would kill to have those figures and legs! Sure, older women do have the right to look gorgeous (Miss Menchu comes to mind again), but let’s face it. In reality, how many older women you know actually look like that?
Now comes the part where we criticize the music…Frankly, I find it a daunting task as I have come to love the songs, a collaboration of two wonderful musicians. Maltby’s lyrics, set into music by David Shire. Deadly combination. Add in an orchestra led by Gerard Salonga and his baton. Maltby, himself, said it. BABY’s music is not like the usual stuff we musical-lovers have come to expect. Heck, the story is not the usual stuff. That all the more makes it dear. The story, the music, the setting, the production, the whole of it, however contemporary, is a classic. Classic in the sense that whatever period it is, it will always sound fresh. The musical was written and first done in the early ‘80s. If I haven’t told you that, would you have realized it? No. That’s how un-antiquated it is.
All in all, BABY The Musical, under the direction of Bobby Garcia, was quite a success indeed. True, Lea’s name dragged people’s butts away from other activities and into the Meralco Theater seats. The smiles on people’s faces after the show, however, were the result of the whole new musical experience. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a bouncing BABY!!!
Meanwhile, here’s one of my favorite BABY songs:
I hope you enjoyed what you read almost as much as I enjoyed the show ten years ago.
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