When "Baby" opened in New York during the 1983-84 season, it got mixed reviews, seven Tony nominations and a run of -- appropriately -- nine months. Lyricist/director Richard Maltby Jr. wanted to make some changes in the show, but didn't have a chance until he helped mount the road production, which opens tomorrow at Olney Theatre.

"I'd wanted to take about 10 minutes out," Maltby said from New York, where he is directing Bernadette Peters in "Song and Dance." "To make things a little clearer."

One change was inadvertent. In the Broadway production, film of an embryo developing played during part of the show, which proved to be technically impossible for the touring version. The deletion was an improvement, Maltby said, because the film had been a distraction. "I was pleased that people found it distracting," he said. "It meant they were really caring about the main stories."

"Baby" is about three couples, two of whom face surprise pregnancies, and one that may be infertile. Some people found the songs about sperm and infertility a bit off-putting, but Maltby said the audiences for the show were surprising.

"For the first three months we got the hard-core, New York sophisticated theatergoers, some of whom were offended by it," he said. "They said, 'What's this doing as the subject of a musical?' After three months we got real folk, and they were much more partisan. Outside New York, people were much more comfortable with the idea of children being a major issue in their lives. In New York the issue of having children seems to be enormously complex -- especially for some of those who grow up to become drama critics."

One of the prettiest songs, "Patterns," was cut from the show before the Broadway opening, although it was included in the original cast album. The song is back, now that the setup for it has been rewritten. "It is sung by a woman who has been married 20 years and whose children have gone off to college. She finds herself pregnant. Her marriage is no longer fulfilling, but we wanted that to be a separate issue from having a baby, and we didn't want the song to mean that the baby was a way out of a humdrum marriage."

Maltby, whose oldest child is about to go to college, wrote the songs with David Shire, who had his first child at 39. "It came out of the idea 'Write what you know,' when we were sitting around thinking of something to write about, and David said, 'Nothing interesting has happened in my life. Except I had a baby.' "

Their concern, he said, was "the emotions that go on" between a couple during the process of producing a child, a subject rarely confronted either in real life or in the theater. The authors wanted to focus on couples that were happy together, because that "courage" interested them more.

He also likes the metaphor of birth. "From a baby's point of view, he knows one universe, a nice safe place. Suddenly there's a lot of pulsating movement and it has to leave the safe place for the unknown . . . You see, we may go kicking and screaming, but we go someplace else."