I can't be bothered to write a lead for this review. Perhaps if the authors had bothered to write a show, I might be so inclined. Instead, Baby It's You, currently defiling the venerable Broadhurst Theatre, is a lazy, amateurish embarrassment of a production disguising itself as yet another cynical dose of jukebox, Boomer nostalgia.
All you have to do is read the Playbill for Baby It's You to know that there's going to be trouble. The "book" is by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the latter of whom inflicted Million Dollar Quartet upon the Broadway stage. The show is directed by Mutrux and Sheldon Epps, with choreography by Birgitte Mutrux. ("Uh-oh: the director and the choreographer have the same last name. Smells like a vanity project to me...")
Sheldon Epps is artistic director at Pasadena Playhouse, which also shepherded Blues in the Night, Play On!, and Looped through their development processes. Not exactly a string of smash Broadway hits. And the above-the-title producers on Baby It's You are Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures and American Pop Anthology, "produced in association with" Universal Music Group. Yikes. Can you say "corporate brand-extension campaign"?
But all would have been forgiven if the show had been any good. It's not good. It's sooooooooo not good. It's the polar opposite of good. Act one starts with a mini-concert of random pop hits - not even by The Shirelles - to get the audience on its side. It had the opposite effect on me. Act two starts with another pointless concert, and the show ends with a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat megamix. Get 'em dancing in the aisles and all will be forgiven? No such luck.
Baby It's You borrows the worst parts of Million Dollar Quartet, Jersey Boys, Dreamgirls, and Memphis, throws them in a blender, and serves up the unappealing result, lukewarm. Purportedly the story of The Shirelles, Baby It's You is essentially Jersey Boys with estrogen. And without balls. The plot features such well-worn territory as how recording artists had to grease the monetary wheels to get a record played (aka "pay for play"), how African American performers couldn't stay in white hotels, and how a working woman in the 1950s had to make sacrifices.
The show tells the story of Florence Greenberg, incipient music mogul, and her efforts to make The Shirelles into a successful singing group. Once again, the amazing Beth Leavel shines out amid the crap, as she has done in so many other shows, including a recent stint in Mamma Mia. (Read my review.) The personal part of the show's plot focuses on the old cliché about how when the woman enters the working world, she must inevitably make trade-offs regarding her family. Greenberg's husband thinks she should be home in the kitchen. Her son helps her out in the music biz, but other than the fact that he is blind, we learn practically nothing about him as a person. And Greenberg's daughter thinks mom should take her...shoe shopping? Whatever.
The show gets points for trying to paint a real picture of Greenberg, but the book is clumsy and episodic, proceeding from underdeveloped complication to pat resolution and onward. The story doesn't build, it meanders. There's an old cliche that songwriter cabaret shows too often reflect, often referred to as the "And Then I Wrote..." syndrome. In other words, uninspired chronology. Well, Baby It's You could essentially be subtitled "And Then We Sang...," representing as it does just a seemingly random succession of un-integrated song hits, occasionally demonstrating some relevance to the story at hand, almost accidentally it seems.
When the authors run out of Shirelle hits, they pump up the score with other period songs, again with little justification to the plot except, "Here's another song that was on the radio at the same time." Seriously. And then a cast member impersonating Leslie Gore comes out to sing "It's My Party." Oy. I got so bored in the second act, I had to keep checking the Playbill to see how many songs were left. There were 21 separate numbers in act two alone. I repeat: Oy.
The show's narrator (the lazy writer's best friend) periodically announces the dates for the scenes and songs at hand, and lists off a bunch of pop-culture references from that time - not that any of the references have anything even remotely to do with the story. (e.g. Ricky Nelson, the Edsel, "Bonanza," Lenny Bruce, and...Redhead? Really? That's your idea of a Broadway data point that will quickly orient the audience as to time and place? Redhead?)
The dialog is of the uninspired sitcom variety, and even features a line brazenly stolen from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." ("You wanna be a producer? OK, produce.") The authors' idea of humor runs toward the painful pun: one character defines "innuendo" as "an Italian suppository." In addition, the production features such unsubtle staging choices as an animated projection (the lazy set designer's best friend) of the Verrezano-Narrows Bridge creating a...well...a bridge between mother and son, positioned on opposite sides of the stage.
Playbill published a story today about how the producers of Baby It's You are being sued by Beverly Lee of The Shirelles, and by Dionne Warwick, who's also represented in the show. (Hey, why not? Everybody else is.) The formal complaint concerns "the unauthorized use of their names and likenesses."
They should be suing for defamation of character.