Re-Bringing Up ‘Baby’: The Second Life (And New Cast Recording) Of A Broadway Musical

The Tony-winning director-lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. explains how the '80s musical 'Baby' was reborn for a new era.

Liz Flemming (left) and Johnny Link as Lizzie and Danny in ‘Baby,’ 2021 KYLE HUEY KHueyMedia

The Baby that was delivered Dec. 4, 1983, to the Barrymore Theater and ran 241 Broadway performances until July 1, 1984—amassing seven Tony nominations along the way—is careening now into middle-age (“Four-oh!” like Margo Channing said). To mark this new maturity, Oscar-winning composer David Shire and Tony-winning director-lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. have built themselves a new Baby on the bones of the old one and given it a brand-new cast recording.

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“I don’t think there has ever been a cast album of a show that was [revived] Off-Off Broadway, way after it was originally done,” contends Maltby. “I don’t think that it has ever happened before.”

Yellow Sound Label is releasing that record on Valentine’s Day—”That was the whole point,” Maltby underlines—but the night before, at The Green Room 42, a NYC concert of Baby’s two-dozen ditties will be given by the Out of the Box Theatrics cast who successfully revived the show in 2021 and earned a Drama Desk nomination. 

Liz Flemming and Ethan Paulini—respectively, the producer and director of Out of the Box Theatrics who helped Maltby modernize the musical—are part of a new generation of theater writers re-thinking older shows in a way that makes them more relatable to 2023 audiences.

Maltby, in addition to updating Baby’s lyrics, took on the even more awesome task of adapting the musical book. (Sybille Pearson, who wrote the original show from a story she developed with Susan Yankowitz, wasn’t available.) Also, this Baby required a fast rewrite.

Richard Maltby, Jr at the opening night of the Out of the Box Theatrics revival of ‘Baby’ in 2021. KYLE HUEY KHueyMedia

The 1983 Baby embraced three couples of different ages, each of them having — or trying to have — a child. It jumped from generation to generation to generation, starting with unmarried college kids who find themselves pregnant, followed by a middle-age couple who owes their pregnancy to an evening of too much champagne, and concluding with a couple in their 30s struggling with infertility. 

“Mostly, people rewrite shows because there’s some basic sexism or racism in the old show nobody paid attention to before but is unacceptable now,” Maltby points out. “That’s not the case with us. We are a show that takes place in the present. The truth is that everything relative to babies and fertility—sexuality, gender, medical science, language, diversity, child-bearing age, politics—all of that has changed. We needed to become a present-tense show again.

“Now, we’re open to same-sex marriage and the issues of two women trying to become parents. The strain is just as great on two women as it is on a heterosexual couple in terms of the process they have to go through. It’s almost as worse for two women because it involves an enormous amount of hormone injections, which completely destroy your sensibility.”

The setting—a college campus—is all that remains of the original musical. “The two women are on the faculty,” Maltby explains. “The oldest couple is a guy involved in the administration and a wife who has just been a housewife. Theirs is a racially-mixed marriage. The youngest couple—a Lizzie who is legally blind and a Danny who is deaf—I thought, ‘Let’s see what they do with the same issues.’” 

Maltby was concerned that changing the plot would mean rewriting the whole score. “There are changes,” he says. “But I was surprised how insignificant they were.” Emotionally, the trajectory of the story remained intact. “I was expecting I’d have to rewrite a great deal more, but, emotionally, the songs still work. There are changes all the way through it—a line here, a couplet there, sometimes a whole stanza—but, mostly, it’s the same.”

Julia Murney (left) Robert H. Fowler as Arlene and Alan in ‘Baby,’ 2021. KYLE HUEY KHueyMedia

Maltby even got an easy break in his adaptation of the show, thanks to the feedback of the new cast, particularly from Julia Murney, who played Arlene, part of the middle couple who find themselves dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. “She was sensational in terms of bringing her own life to the character,” he says. “She insisted her character had to be older than 43 because she is—also, because her mother had gone through a late pregnancy. Julia’s brother is 15 years younger than she is, so she knew a whole lot about what that does to your life. 

“These stories are about the parts of your life you never talk about. Everyone in the cast did the same thing. Everyone brought in something from their own lives that transformed the writing.

“This cast is quite remarkable, and it was tricky to record. We had to do the whole show in one day. It’s kinda breakneck to do it all in one day. It limits the retakes. I was always saying, ‘Can I go back and fix something?’ and the producer would say, ‘I can fix it. It’s all right.’”

The new Baby appears to be all right with audiences as well. “I’m pleased at their reactions. A lot of them are the Baby fan club, and they didn’t feel that it was yanked into something awkward. They felt that it all seemed natural to them, and I count that as an achievement.”

So, what of Baby’s future? “It’s a show that gets done all the time,” says Maltby. ”I’m sure this version will be done all the time. The other version will be available if anybody wants to do it, but I suspect that they’ll move to the newer version, just because it’s timelier, more modern. And, by now, the score is kinda iconic. I have to say that it was really interesting, working on the cast album and hearing it song after song after song, thinking ‘These songs are really good.’”

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Re-Bringing Up ‘Baby’: The Second Life (And New Cast Recording) Of A Broadway Musical