Book by Floyd Mutrux & Colin Escott
Directed by Floyd Muttrux & Sheldon Epps
Starring Beth Leavel
Broadhurst Theatre / West 44th Street
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

Baby It’s You is a jukebox musical about the rise and fall of the late 50s-early 60s girl group singing sensation, the Shirelles, and more pointedly about Florence Greenberg (Beth Leavel), the middle aged, suburban Jewish mother who essentially abandoned her family to create them and conquer the music world. Not that she doesn’t have cause to seek a more fulfilling life, so says the libretto by Floyd Mutrux (co-director) and Colin Escott; the kids, grown and in school, are supportive and art first actively in her corner: blind son Stanley (Brandon Uranowitz) himself being a budding songwriter, and daughter Mary Jane (Kelli Barrett) having discovered the four “Negro” girls (Erica Ash, Kyra Da Costa, Crystal Starr, Christina Sajous)  on her high school playground; and husband Bernie (Barry Pearl) is such a conservative, male chauvinist lout that you can practically say his patronizing lines with him.

                  That Bernie is such a cliché is an early warning sign that we’re in for a mediocre ride, but there are earlier ones, most specifically a generic, era-setting 50s montage that goes on way too long, and could have been appended to any show about the music of the era. The real story, which is about a woman leaving her family, is likewise abandoned for the tale of how she becomes a surrogate mother to the group—and has an affair with her black, hitmaking songwriter-producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis). But the affair is handled only in the sketchiest terms, and the four girls are never truly particularized. They’re essentially the four singin’ black chicks with a kind of group-daughter gestalt. Thus the show that means to dramatize the human story turns its very fulcrum into a bland commodity. Thus, for those who’d prefer a true show-biz story of any depth or revelation, there’s little more at Baby It’s You than disappointment.

                  But the team that created the more dramatically viable Million Dollar Quartet (plus co-director Sheldon Epps) is also in it for the feelgood market, and there, even a negative minded critic (if he’s honest) can’t deny that the pandering is expert and effective. Certainly the cast is mega-talented (with Ms. Leavel’s charismatic Yiddische fire at the center, her role passionately acted, her comedy timing as sharp as ever, her songs exquisitely sung) and the staging is super-slick, with obligatory sequences that solicit—and receive—enthusiastic audience participation. If you’re likely to be less discriminating of a jukebox experience (and nothing to be ashamed of if you are, since Guilty Pleasure is an entirely ironic category), you may just give into the nostalgia and not care about anything more. You would not find yourself alone…

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