Before we get to the universal themes, how this can be transported to pretty much any city where there are parents and what a sweet evening of theater "Rated P for Parenthood" is, allow me a disclaimer.
Last summer, a friend who is an actor and my daughter's acting coach invited me to a musical in South Orange, N.J. She knew the show's creators. I learned many years ago in college to come up with a series of noncommittal, postshow remarks when friends are involved in productions: interesting, earnest, promising.
Happily, I didn't need to cover. "Rated P for Parenthood" is interesting, earnest and promising. More than that, it's also fun. By now, the show is tighter than it was in the summer and still sweet. Emily Bauer, my pal, is the unseen announcer.
It transferred well across the Hudson and opens Wednesday, (Feb. 29) at the Westside Theater, an avenue west of Broadway. At a tight 85 minutes without intermission, it's essentially vaudeville but a century later and includes a captioning device.
The two men and two women play all of the roles on a minimalist set with background light panels. A couple of screens near the rafters occasionally flicker with text conversations, but the device, which would become tiresome if overused, is shown just the right amount.
To any parent, the exchanges are real, and the reason people enjoy this is because they can relate. Anyone who tells their kids to share, to not eat the sand in the sandbox "because rats poop there" and has to come up with $12,000 for orthodontia most certainly would.
The musical begins when a couple finds out she's eight weeks pregnant. The skits hit the benchmarks of parenthood with good humor and grace. In fact, it's a lot more good humor and grace than most people exercise in their lives. This is parenthood without trauma, bitterness or anything too terrible happening.
From the moment the woman is trying to give birth and the husband is blathering about a birth plan and natural childbirth to when the kids go off to college, each phase is captured in a few minutes.
The actors are excellent at switching gears fast and coupling up depending on the scene. David Josefsberg ("The Wedding Singer"), as the dad driving the kids to sleep-away camp, is terrific veering between lusting after his wife - relishing the thought of sex in a house without kids - and being the dad about to bid his kids goodbye for the summer.
"Parent Teacher Conference," a rap song number with Josefsberg and Chris Hoch ("La Cage Aux Folles") as two dads anxious before heading into the classroom, is the best number of the show. Hoch is the only new member of the cast since it made it to off-Broadway.
Courtney Balan is excellent, particularly when singing "I'm gonna die without my roots done," about teaching her son to drive and thinking she's going to be in crash. When she tearfully sees off her kindergarten-age daughter on the bus, Balan proves she's a great talent. Early on, though, when she plays a meddling Jewish mother-in-law, it feels far too broad and the accent is off.
The only other drawback is the choreography is weak. But a couple of skits that are not quite at the level of the others -- a forced scene that has a dad collapsing over prom night -- doesn't detract from the musical's overall charm.
There's still the feeling of hey gang, let's put on a show! And that's fun. The only props are a table that doubles as a bed and a few chairs. Costumes are minimal -- the Santa and Tooth Fairy outfits are what any parent who dons these get-ups would have -- and all work in the play's favor.
This means "Rated P for Parenthood" could easily be adapted and go on tour pretty much forever -- or at least as long there are parents.
Photo/Video credit: Carol Rosegg