Baby, It's You!
nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
May 11, 2011
A dozen talented performers and a slew of great songs: That's the beginning and the end of the list of reasons to see Baby, it's You!, a jukebox musical about Florence Greenberg now playing at the Broadhurst Theatre. Greenberg was a New Jersey housewife who suddenly, in her middle years, radically changed her life. Upon discovering four girl singers through her daughter, she decided to found a small record label and introduce the world to The Shirelles. Despite setbacks, Florence Greenberg would prove herself an adept recording executive, in the process leaving her husband for a much younger African American lover in a time when mixed-race relationships were still considered shocking. An incredible woman, Greenberg's life should make an amazing musical. Alas, instead, we have Baby, it's You!
Beth Leavel plays Florence, and her talent is an undeniable force. She's funny, a fantastic singer, and she makes the most out of playing a larger-than-life woman who was very real indeed. And she's surrounded by excellent compatriots, particularly Allan Louis, who plays the producer Luther Dixon with whom Greenberg had a long-term affair, and Geno Henderson, a powerhouse performer who plays, among others, a disc jockey serving as the show's quasi-narrator. That he manages to make the tedious calendar-keeping text sound natural is an amazing feat in itself, but he's also a terrific singer and an adroit dancer. The rest of the company is superb as well, with most taking on multiple roles smoothly.
But the show they find themselves in is wholly unsatisfying. The book speeds through the years from 1958 to 1965 so rapidly it's impossible to care about any of the characters beyond Florence (despite Barry Pearl's expert rendering of her husband, Bernie). There's no dimension, no texture to the proceedings. The one item that registers clearly is the transgressive nature of Florence's relationship with Luther—particularly in "The Dark End of the Street," one of the few uses of song to invest in the people in the show rather than merely to present another number for the audience to sing along to (and sing along they do, delightedly). But that relationship falls victim to poor storytelling as well, its demise sketched in flimsily written scenes that never remotely surprise. In fact, surprise is an experience entirely missing from Baby, it's You! Directors Floyd Mutrux and Sheldon Epps seem to have settled for getting the show up on stage, with no inspiration in sight.
To make matters worse, this is one of the worst looking shows to hit Broadway in years. Birgitte Mutrux's choreography is flat-footed, uninspired. Anna Louizos provided a fantastic, dynamic set for In the Heights; here, she merely provides a bandstand that pivots and several screens for projections. The usually reliable Howell Binkley's lighting is a mess here—many, many moments are lost entirely. And the less said about Lizz Wolf's unattractive, unflattering costumes, the better. The whole affair looks cheap, which only adds to its depressing aura.
Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott apparently did significantly better work on Million Dollar Quartet, another jukebox musical set slightly earlier in time. Here, they seem to be overwhelmed by the scale of the story they want to tell, which is a shame, because Florence Greenberg is fascinating. Here's hoping that they find material they're more in sync with next time, and, more importantly, that the twelve actors in Baby, it's You! find better work pronto.