Actors Theatre Company’s ‘Baby’ is simple and sweet

When I compiled my list of top ten act one closing numbers more than a year ago, I completely forget about Baby — that endearing 1983 musical by David Shire (music) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics) that follows the story of three couples whose lives are suddenly impacted by pregnancy. As one half of the youngest couple, 19 year-old Lizzie, played by the beautifully nuanced Hannah Sielatycki, closes the first act with “The Story Goes On,” a tune made famous by Liz Callaway 26 years ago where the young and nervous mother-to-be has a moment of clarity: she’s creating a new generation:

Sielatycki may perform the number with less vocal power than Ms. Callaway, but it’s still a wonderful performance, filled with heart and self-discovery — as this entire production is chocked full of. Right down the line, each story made me actually kinda understand this mysterious urge to have a baby. A true accomplishment, as I have zero desire to have kids of my own, and find it hard to understand why most people would want them.

But, really, the play isn’t about a baby — it’s about how that unexpected news,”you’re pregnant!,” can change one’s life, give one a new perspective, take stock. It’s all scary and exciting, and then you sing a great Maltby and Shire song.

Director Marlon Barden and scenic designer Matthew Kollar keep things simple — maybe too simple. A lot of action occurs way upstage — distancing us from the story and making us focus on the ugly set. And she never really figures out how to effectively use that cheesy ensemble — probably the single element that drags this otherwise timeless show back into the parts of the ’80s we’d rather forget. But the bulk of the show is a real winner.

After being pleasantly surprised by Actors Theatre Company’s Follies last season, and now Baby, I’m thinking this group may be one of Chicago’s hidden gems. Maybe their next show can run more than just a couple of weeks.

“Baby” has only has three performances left! June 25, 26 and 27 at Stage 773 (formerly Theatre Building Chicago). More info here >

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