Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Baby It's You @ Broadhurst Theatre

Take the styles of Million Dollar Quartet and Rain, add the story elements of Jersey Boys, throw in the energy of Mamma Mia, and one gets the new Broadway musical Baby it’s You!, currently playing at the Broadhurst Theatre. Telling the true story of the girl group The Shirelles and their manager Florence Greenberg, this jukebox musical features some of the best songs of the 60s with a new flair. Baby it’s You! is sure to be a hit with the older generation who grew up on such hits as Book of Love, Mama Said, Shout, It’s My Party, and so many more.
In the city of Passaic, New Jersey, Florence Greenberg lived as a house wife to husband Bernie Greenberg, daughter Mary Jane, and blind son Stanley – who happens to be a song writer. It is in this little town that Mary Jane discovers a group of four African American girls – Shirley, Micki, Beverley, and Doris – that perform at her high school. Longing for something more in her life, Florence leaves behind her family and takes the girl group, now known as The Shirelles, to New York City. It is there that Florence sets up a record label of her own and begins The Shirelles rise to stardom. As her success grows, Florence’s relationships begin to spin out of control as she starts an affair with her song writer Luther Dixon, loses contact with her daughter, struggles to get her son a hit record, and separates from her husband. However, through it all, Florence comes out on top as The Shirelles (the first ever all girl group to have a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 list) pave the way for other all girl groups such as Diana Ross and The Supremes.
Baby it’s You! features an ensemble of extremely energetic and talented actors who are dedicated to bringing this rags to riches story to life.. Leading the pact is Tony Award winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) as Florence Greenberg. Leavel delivers a heartfelt and moving performance that is fully deserving of the Tony Award nomination that she has received for her portrayal of Florence. She is able to make the tough as nails Florence Greenberg absolutely loveable. The audience is behind Florence as she struggles to move to New York and establish a record label, finds a new love, tries to support a family in a different state, and ultimately establish the first all girl group, The Shirelles. The two men in her life are played by Allan Louis (from television’s Grey’s Anatomy and Boston Legal) as Luther Dixon and Barry Pearl (known for playing Doody in the major motion picture Grease) as Bernie Greenberg. These two men provide Leavel with tons of support and attitude; Louis uses his soulful voice to seduce Leavel while Pearl uses his quick wit and sarcasm to give Leavel enough of a reason to get up and leave. Florence Greenberg’s New York family consisted of the four talented girls that made up The Shirelles – played by Christina Sajous (Broadway’s American Idiot) as Shirley, Erica Ash (Off-Broadway’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore) as Micki, Kyra Da Costa (Broadway’s Dreamgirls and Sweet Charity) as Beverley, and Crystal Starr (from television’s American Idol) as Doris. Together, these four women create a sound that is simply divine. Sajous steals the spotlight as the leader of the pack; her crazy good vocals mixed with her strong acting abilities makes her a true stand out in the cast. The rest of the ensemble, however, is wonderful too, as they bring the classic oldie hits into a new generation.
Baby it’s You! was conceived by Floyd Mutrux, who also brought the hit musical Million Dollar Quartet to the Great White Way. While the songs are hits and the actors are top notch, the overall story needed some extra attention. With a book by Mutrux and Colin Escott (also co-author of Million Dollar Quartet), this new musical needs much more focus – does it want to tell a story or be a rock concert? The musical simply wanted to do too much; it wanted to tell the story of both Florence and The Shirelles, have tons of great hit songs, and entertain audiences with a concert style set up. Unfortunately, none of these ideas were fully created. The play moved at a rapid pace, ignoring key relationships between the characters (especially the relationship between the four girls who the play centers around), in order to allow for an entire second act of song after song with minimal story line interruptions. This is a problem that not even the most gifted of actors, like the queen of Broadway herself – Leavel, could fix. With the entire above aside, the musical features wonderful creative work from its costume designer Lizz Wolf (film designs include Rambo and The Expendables) and scenic designer Anna Louizos (Broadway designs include In the Heights and Avenue Q). These two designers worked hard to bring the 60s style and fashion back to Broadway. Their designs are both detailed to make sure that each element transports the audience back in time to experience the birth of The Shirelles.
Baby it’s You! is a nice new musical that is light and heartwarming. While the story behind the people is not as strong as it should be, the work of the cast and designers is worth seeing if you were a fan of this generation. Bringing back such hits as Twist and Shout, Duke of Earl, Yakety Yak, and Soldier Boy, this new jukebox musical will surely have you leaving the theatre wanting to find some old records and rock out!

Review By: James Russo and Ryan Oliveti

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