Friday, May 13, 2011

Baby It's Not That Bad

I'd heard some awful things about Baby It's You!, the new Broadway musical that tells the story of Florence Greenberg, the Jewish New Jersey housewife who discovered the Shirelles and created Scepter Records. Some theater circles have even started referring to it as Baby It's Poo. I have to wonder what these people were expecting. It's a jukebox musical meant to offer crowd-pleasing familiar songs, and on that front, it succeeds. I prefer more ambitious works, but sometimes I like to balance that with mindless entertainment, and this season has offered so much of the former that I think there's room for the latter as well.

The story of Greenberg (Beth Leavel) is an interesting one. She was a married woman who had a romantic relationship with a much younger black man, record producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis)--pretty radical for the early '60s. Unfortunately, the book by Floyd Multrux and Colin Escott doesn't develop the characters and relationships enough, because the point is to cram in as many songs as possible. These are the men behind Million Dollar Quartet, another musical with great songs and performances but a weak book. The show also has a superfluous narrator (Geno Henderson), whose only purpose seems to be to bring up pop culture references (complete with cheesy graphics) of the era to further excite the baby boomer crowd.

As for the music, you not only hear Shirelles numbers like "Baby It's You" and "Soldier Boy," but other hits of the time like "It's My Party" and "Louie Louie." Vocally, the women playing the Shirelles--Christina Sajous, Erica Ash, Kyra Da Costa, and Crystal Starr--sound terrific, but they don't get a chance to do much more than sing. Then again, it's not a musical about the Shirelles, it's about about Florence Greenberg and Leavel does what she can with lame dialogue, but once again, you'd be hard-pressed to hear these songs sung better anywhere, other than digging up your old records.

I like to think of shows like Baby It's You!, Million Dollar Quartet, and Rain more as concerts than musicals. Maybe I'm being too easy on the show--why should jukebox musicals be an excuse for lazy writing? They shouldn't, but as a fan of the music of this era, I was able to enjoy myself.

Photo credit: Ari Mintz

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