Baby It’s You, the occasionally entertaining new jukebox musical now at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre, mines the song catalog of the The Shirelles — as well as other big hits of the late 1950s and the early 1960s — as the musical tells the story of Florence Greenberg (Beth Leavel), the New Jersey housewife who discovered the girl group.
While Greenberg’s history has the potential to be dramatically compelling, Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott’s clumsy book immeasurably undermines her story — and the show is only truly enjoyable when serving up nearly 40 tunes from the period.
The show gets off to a bang as the company, led by a character named Jocko (a multiply cast and seemingly indefatigable Geno Henderson) — who serves as the show’s ostensible American Bandstand-like narrator — offers up a medley that includes “Mr. Lee,” “Book of Love,” “Rockin’ Robin,” and “Dance With Me.” Henderson’s singing dazzles, and Birgitte Mutrux’s choreography impresses as it evokes the period, while also putting a contemporary Broadway spin on what could look like clichéd and over-used dance steps.
Sequences such as this one pervade the show’s 2 1/2-hour running time, and during these company numbers, or ones featuring the swell-sounding Christina Sajous, Kyra Da Costa, Crystal Starr Knighton, and Erica Ash as The Shirelles, theatergoers are guaranteed a good time.
Moreover, Mutrux and co-director Sheldon Epps, have put together an often gorgeous-looking production that zips along crisply, thanks in no small part to Anna Louizos’ spare, yet elegant scenic design and Jason H. Thompson’s projection design, which provides some marvelous historical details. Lizz Wolf’s period costume designs are particularly impressive.
Unfortunately, Baby It’s You‘s attempt to sandwich Greenberg’s story into what is essentially a glitzy concert fall flat. The characters, particularly Greenberg’s husband Bernie (Barry Pearl), are depicted as laughable cartoons of a bygone era. (When he tells his wife that she doesn’t have a job until she earns a paycheck, theatergoers groan in unison), Worse still, the bookwriters have only sketched in the bare minimum of details to give a sense of forward motion, without ever providing any real depth.
Sadly, the book’s shortcomings leave both the superlatively talented Leavel and the appealing Allan Louis (as African-American songwriter Luther Dixon, who also became Greenberg’s partner and lover) with little to do, musically or otherwise. In fact, this is a musical in which the romantic leads do not truly sing of their feelings for one another until they are at the point of breaking up. It’s a moment that should pull heartstrings, but it feels only like an interruption to the show’s main event: the music.