There’s a new jukebox musical in town. And if you have any doubt about it being such, set designer Anna Louizos along with projections designer Jason H. Thompson clue us in immediately with an on stage band and a huge projection of a vintage (circa 1958) juke box loading a 45 rpm record at the start of “Baby It’s You!” written by Floyd Mutrux & Colin Escott (who also wrote “Million Dollar Quartet” still running on Broadway) using various songs of the late fifties and early sixties mostly made famous by The Shirelles.
If you are hungry for nostalgia you might want to see this modestly entertaining show that looks like one of those PBS salutes to “the oldies but goodies” geared towards the Baby Boomer generation.
“Baby It’s You!” depicts the rise of the first all girl pop group – The Shirelles. A group of four young negro girls – Shirley Alston (Christina Sajous), Beverly Lee (Kyra Da Costa), Doris Kenner (Crystal Starr) and Addie “Micki” Harris (Erica Ash) classmates of Mary Jane Greenberg (Kelli Barrett) the daughter of Florence Greenberg (a remarkable Beth Leavel).
Who you may ask is Florence Greenberg? She was a 40-something housewife from Passaic New Jersey who had a burning need to do something more with her life than bake cookies and raise two children (Mary Jane and a blind son Stan – Brandon Uranowitz) along with her chauvinistic husband Bernie (Barry Pearl) an accountant who thinks having a beautiful refrigerator should fulfill his wife’s every desire.
Florence Greenberg was Jewish and white. She knew music, had great intuition for hits and a good business sense but didn’t do so well with her private life as we see when she decides to start up a record company or two, grooming these four negro girls for stardom and then falling for a much younger negro record producer and writer Luther Dixon (Alan Louis), eventually leaving her husband for fame, lots of snappy outfits, matching shoes and plenty of bling.
It seems that every time Beth Leavel exits the stage after a short scene while vicariously living through the rise of her Shirelles she enters moments later in another creation. Must be hectic backstage with all the costume changes and probably more interesting with what is on stage throughout most of the evening.
There is a lot of history illustrated like “That Wonderful Year” segment on the vintage Garry Moore television show, narrated by Jocko (Geno Henderson) that acts as filler for the real story we want to hear about. Payola and discrimination rear their ugly heads and The Shirelles wind up playing second fiddle to Florence who is complicated and ruthless.
At first we cheer her on and then our ardor lessens. The girls rise is fast and her desertion of them and Luther even faster as she senses a change in the air and opts to attach herself to Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick.
The songs which include “Dedicated To The One I Love”, “Soldier Boy” and “Tonight’s the Night” are all expertly performed but it’s like “And then they wrote” “And then they sang” without a strong story line to hold it all together.
You might want to check out www.theshirelles.com to see when the originals who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 will be performing in your area or download an album.
www.babyitsyouonbroadway.com At the Broadhurst Theatre Photo: Ari Mintz
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