A scene from Baby It's You!
(© Michael Lamont)
A scene from Baby It's You!
(© Michael Lamont)
Serious book problems hamper a strong catalog of early 1960s tunes and the efforts of a talented cast in Baby It's You!, now at the Pasadena Playhouse. The result is a surprisingly uninvolving biography of Florence Greenberg, the Jewish housewife who discovered and fostered the doo-wop group The Shirelles.

It's 1958, and Greenberg (Meeghan Holaway) wants more to her life than carpooling and making a brisket. When her daughter introduces her to four schoolmates with angelic singing voices, she takes the opportunity and spins it into one of the most popular girl groups of the early Rock-n-Roll era. A woman in a man's world, she learns the trade, finds the best writers, and greases the spokes at a time where a hit record requires bribery. Florence also eventually leaves her hen-picking husband when she falls for her African-American co-producer, Luther Dixon (Allan Louis).

Without question, the show is loaded with ideas -- women's liberation, interracial relationships, poor parenting -- but the script dabbles in each, committing to nothing and giving no insight. Most flimsy is the love affair between Florence and Luther. We're told while they're in Alabama that they can't leave their hotel out of fear, but there's no emotional connection to just how dangerous interracial relationships were in the early 1960s, particularly in the south.

Director Floyd Mutrux and his co-scriptwriter Colin Escott use clunky narration, with a disc jockey setting the mood as the years pass. But instead of infusing wit and pathos, he merely tells us who won the Academy Awards that year as if he were hosting an AFI tribute. That sort of superficiality is indicative of the entire piece. Most of the characters are paper-thin, and the actors switch roles so often it's impossible to know the difference from one of their roles to another, particularly when we learn little about any of them.

There's no question that the music is the calling card. The title song, along with "Dedicated To The One I Love" and "You Really Got A Hold On Me" are worthy classics, but the writers fail to find a rhythm with them either. Sometimes four or five songs are performed in a row with the plot taking a backseat, while other times, they become book numbers, which can be problematic. The writers sloppily use lyrics as dialogue to shoehorn in a song in an inorganic way, as in when Florence says to her husband conversationally "There'll be days like this, my Mama said." Other times, people sing songs inappropriate to them. The words "Yakity Yak" may fit Florence's husband's harangues to his wife, but as a man who doesn't comprehend or appreciate rock, he would never sing the song in that way.

Still, the able voices of the cast help lift many of the numbers. Geno Henderson brings down the house with his soul stylings in "Any Day Now." Paulette Ivory shows off the velvet voice of Dionne Warwick in "Don't Make Me Over" and "Walk On By." Adam Irizarry has a stirring moment with "The Rhythm of the Falling Rain," and all four Shirelles (Erica Ash, Berlando Drake, Paulette Ivory and Crystal Starr Knighton) bring nuance and harmony to many of the girl group's best songs. Meanwhile, Louis brings a nervous energy and creative verve as the temperamental Luther. Conversely, Holaway drowns in her characters' shallow interpretation -- which is a shame, because she has a lovely voice.