The romantic leads of the world-premiere production of the show devised by dramatist Cheri Steinkellner (Sister Act," TV's "Cheers") are Justin Bowen as Mickey McKee and Stephanie Koenig as Nelly Gold. Ray Roderick, who developed the popular touring revue Irving Berlin's I Love a Piano, directs. Choreography is by Kelli Barclay (Goodspeed's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and My One and Only). Musical arrangements are by Georgia Stitt.
The new musical dips into the trunk of American pop songs that are now in the public domain. The musical was an audience favorite in the winter 2011 Goodspeed Festival of New Artists reading series, and now gets this full developmental staging at the Terris, Goodspeed's home devoted to new works. Since Hello! My Baby is "developmental," no critics are invited. Performances play to Nov. 27.
Hello! My Baby is conceived and written by Steinkellner, a 2011 Tony and 2010 Olivier Award nominee for co-writing the book to Sister Act. She's a Goodspeed alumna for writing the book to Princesses. Steinkellner also contributed the new lyrics for Hello! My Baby, seeking to aid in the modern musical storytelling.
Steinkellner's original story is about a song-plugger who meets a factory girl in the early 20th century, the era of Tin Pan Alley songs written by young composers George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, plus other writers who are not household names, but whose songs are.
Roderick's cast also includes Kelly McCormick as Frances Gold; Carrington Vilmont as Junior Tierney; Dick Decareau as Stanford J. Tierney; Beth McVey as Ethel Coots; Frank Root as Bert Coots; Alex Viola as Violet Gold, plus Jessica Azenberg; Matthew Bauman as Albie Coots; Catherine Blades as Alice; Zak Edwards; Michael Mendez as Kid Vicious; Clinton Roane as Noble T. Jones; Allie Schauer as Marie; Jeremy Sevelovitz as Johnny; Ashley Wallace and Michael Warrell as Dickie the Duck.
New music and arrangements are by Stitt, whose musicals include Big Red Sun (winner of the Harold Arlen Award in 2005), The Water, Sing Me a Happy Song and Mosaic (written with Cheri Steinkellner). Stitt was music director for Goodspeed's The Baker's Wife.
According to Goodspeed, Hello! My Baby "celebrates the birth of the first all-American art form: Popular Music. [It] features refreshed hits by over 20 of the greatest composers. This riotous new-fashioned musical reboots the greatest hits of Berlin, Gershwin, Kern and more. When Tin Pan Alley's teen King of the Song-Pluggers falls for a factory girl who's a musical demon, it's a recipe for comic romance as they sing and dance their way through class struggles, street gangs, debutante balls and a whole lot of ukuleles."
The Hello! My Baby songlist features "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," "Alice Blue Gown," "Ain't We Got Fun," "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," "You Made Me Love You," "My Buddy," "Stairway To Paradise," "Hello! My Baby" and more.
Steinkellner, who is also an accomplished, Emmy Award-winning sitcom writer ("Cheers," "Family Ties," "The Jeffersons"), explained the show in the following author's notes:
"H!MB began with a songbook of memorable-but-forgotten tunes. I scribbled dozens of titles on Post-Its, stuck them to the wall, moved them around, tried to fashion a story around them. My first instinct was to go straight-up Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland 'Hey Kids, let's put on a show': Babes in…something. Babes on…somewhere. But once I started digging into the songs' origins, it became wildly clear — these Tin Pan Alley tunes told a story of their own.
"The seed of that story sprouted with an old-school term: 'Song-plugger.' Teenage Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Eubie Blake — so many of our great composers began their musical careers as song-pluggers on the Lower East Side, hawking sheet music on the streets, in saloons — wherever people gathered. Popular Music was the all-new all-American art form. And it didn't matter whether you were Jewish or Irish, rich or poor — if you came up with a hit, you could jump the wall, make a million, and write the songs the kids were all singing. And are singing again — a hundred years later!
"The biggest 'Aha!' moment came with the realization that songs in the Public Domain have no copyright restrictions. This meant we could (with great respect and affection for the original composers and lyricists) get creative! I added character-centric, story-forwarding lyrics in the form of new intros, bridges, additional verses. Georgia composed counter-melodies and dance music, pushed tempos, changed the styles and feels of the songs and built the score to sound fresh to the modern ear. Holding onto the classic refrains people know and love; we've taken this unique opportunity to explore and heighten music and lyrics — transforming simple 16-bar ditties and 32-bar charm-songs into full-scale musical-theatre numbers."
The creative team includes set designer Michael Schweikardt, costume designer Robin L. McGee, lighting designer John Lasiter, sound designer Jay Hilton and music director Steve Saari.
The Norma Terris Theatre is at 33 North Main Street in Chester, CT. For more information call the Goodspeed Box Office at (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.