My Life as a Bald Soprano
nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
July 20, 2008
"Being a bald woman in public is as exposed as being naked in a crowd." These words are spoken by performer Margaret H. Baker in her musical, My Life as a Bald Soprano, and they are insightful in capturing Baker's personal experiences of having alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes involuntary hair loss and baldness. Part fairy tale, part personal musical journey, My Life as a Bald Soprano sorts through some provocative issues and theatrical ideas, although it's uneven in some of its execution.
Playing the role of Gretchen, Baker starts as a young girl dealing with alopecia. There is some clunky exposition to explain what that is exactly, but Baker also chooses to play within a familiar fairy tale frame. In a fitting reaction to recurring images of fairy tale heroines with flowy and golden tresses (Rapunzel comes to mind as the poster child for hair-centric damsels), Gretchen is the opposite: the damsel loses her hair to the wicked villainess, Alopecia Areata, who takes girls' hair for her fashions (actress Gina Bonati makes a great Cruella DeVille-like character). At the same time, deserted by her own reflection and adding to her distress, Mirror is now replaced by a gruff, well-dressed, and unmistakably bald man (actor Kyle Minshew plays along well).
With Mirror as her sidekick, Gretchen tries her hardest to hide her hair loss with wigs and scarves, with little success. The bullying and taunting from mean girls continue despite her efforts. Theatrically, it is great fun to see the different wigs personified as characters played by the ensemble cast: "Fanny," the synthetic wig with the Swedish accent played by a versatile Sabina Maschi is rather narcoleptic, while "Tyra," the wig made with human hair, is boastful and proud (a sexy and confident Alika Hope). The other women in the ensemble, Okema T. Moore and Jane Pejtersen, are also in fine vocal form.
Baker also tackles some of the broader issues of feminine beauty. There is an effective satiric montage of fake hair care advertisements which brings to light how it's not "just hair" for women. And Baker makes the painful admission that a "beautiful outside is key to a beautiful inside." However, she brings us to a journey's end that feels earned, albeit slight.
The musical aspects do not feel as integrated with the overall production. Baker, a classically trained vocalist, has a mature and strong voice that does not quite match the uncertain and unhappy child she has chosen to play. And unfortunately, the lyrics are sometimes forgettable, though Clint Borzoni's compositions (which he plays live) sound promising. Director Andrew T. Carter has provided some inventive staging but his actors seem uncertain sometimes on stage.
Baker's strengths lie in her creative writing, a keen sense of satire, and a unique personal outlook. With some tightening, this could be a really great vehicle for her to tell her story.