Babes in Arms

Babes in Arms addresses the handling of racism in 1930s Long Island in an otherwise-lighthearted musical. The premiere of Douglas Carter Beane’s version of Rodgers & Hart’s classic tale runs at the Forestburgh Playhouse through September 5th. Original production photos by Jonathan Charles Fox.
Are you old enough to sing along with the numbers in this new musical revival?

By Andrew Andrews

Forestburgh Playhouse closes out their 75th Anniversary Mainstage Season with playwright/director Douglas Carter Beane’s revision of Rogers & Hart’s 1937 musical Babes in Arms.

When a community of retired vaudeville actors go back on the road to earn some cash, their teenage children are left behind to find their own jobs, or be sent to a work farm by the local sheriff.

The talented teens decide to put on a show of their own in Valentine’s barn, and find an investor named Beauregard from the deep south (of Long Island) who’s willing to produce the show as long as the black members of the cast are excluded.

Valentine decides to disguise his friends in Egyptian mummy costumes rather than cut them, and the show comes together nicely until the identities of the black brothers are exposed.

(L-R) Joseph Monseur, Aliza Ciara, Tia Karaplis, Jeffrey Marc Alkins, Eric Siegle, Liat Shuflita, Logan Schmucker, M.L.Catwell, Dan Kelly and GraceAnn Kontak make up the cast.

You might think you know Babes in Arms, but unless you’ve seen this production, you haven’t experienced this version of the story.

Differing significantly from both the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland film and the 1950s plot about helping a troubled playhouse owner, Beane’s story is closer to the original, but lacks its penchant for violence, and casts Val’s love interest Billie as a “boette,” or girl hobo.

Featuring the original musical numbers in roughly the same order, I saw plenty of audience members joyfully singing along.

The rustic décor of the Forestburgh Playhouse is the perfect complement to the setting, allowing the performers to spill out into the aisles without exactly breaking the fourth wall.

Projections of vintage film footage and other images onto the back wall and movable curtains added delightful visuals to the gorgeous set and lighting effects, although there was a singular moment when a few seconds of recent color TV news video created a very disappointing anachronism.

Like most lighthearted musical comedies, there isn’t much depth to this story, aside from the intentional mishandling of the racist producer by Valentine.

While the actors seemed a little older than their characters, the portrayals were spot-on, and the director and choreographer have done great work getting the best delivery out of everyone on stage, especially during the many fun dance routines.

Of course, the highlight of every musical is the songs. The small but talented band was supported by actors playing guitar, violin and saxophone as needed, and all did a fine job. The vocals, too, were all very, very good, although my partner and I agreed that the delivery—or perhaps the sound—fell just a little short of excellent.

As a cultural institution in the Sullivan Catskills for 75 years, Forestburgh Playhouse is no novice at creating performances of this caliber, and Babes in Arms is the perfect story for the venue and its surrounds. If you’re a fan of musical comedies and you live in or around Sullivan County, attending this performance will surely make you feel “wonder-happy!”

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Andrew Andrews attended Babes in Arms at Forestburgh Playhouse in Forestburgh on Wednesday, August 25, 2021 @ 8:00pm to write this review.

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