Two and a half hours and 40 songs later, I walked out of the Broadhurst Theatre wondering what I just saw. I didn’t hate it, but I really didn’t care for it either. Baby It’s You is a mash-up version of Dreamgirls, Jersey Boys, and Smokey Joe’s Cafe but the downfall is that it doesn’t do anything better than any of those shows.
The story centers around the life and career of housewife gone record studio exceutive and producer, Florence Greenberg. It never centers around The Shirelles, even though the four girls sing almost every number. While, we were all connected to the fabulous Beth Leavel (playing Flo), it didn’t matter because we never really cared about any of her relationships. It doesn’t have the story or connection like Dreamgirls does, nor do you care about the characters like you do in Dreamgirls. Baby It’s You focuses on a lot of small conflicts that are usually resolved in minutes or even seconds. The first act closes and there’s nothing driving you to come back after intermission. I was even confused that the first act ended. (I turned to my neighbor, who I didn’t know, and said, “What just happened?” He had no idea.)
At one point, in the second act, there were several huge conflicts that were resolved by singing a song like “A Thing of the Past” or “Walk on By.” When Flo divorces her husband, no one cared. When Flo’s boyfriend and business partner, Luther Dixon (Allan Louis), broke up with her and left their business for Capitol Records, no one cared. We cared about Flo, but it never went any further than her, so in reality we saw her as a self-centered bitch who put herself and career first and ignored the rest. She ignored her husband, children, friends and sacrificed her life for The Shirelles. But I never realized or agreed that it was worth it.
I actually took the other sentiment — make sure your dreams align with your partner’s and family’s dream(s) or you will lose everything and you’ll be left with nothing like Flo.
I can only imagine that that’s certainly not the moral that they were trying for.
The music was fun but it was never executed well enough to blow me away like I was when I saw Jersey Boys. Christina Sajous, who played Shirley (the main lead of The Shirelles) was fantastic, but unfortunately she didn’t have that “star quality”. (I kept wanting her to sing songs from American Idiot instead!) The rest of group was great, but not amazing. It’s interesting to note that the playbill doesn’t even mention who the music/songs were written by. It’s a musical, with 40 songs (about 20 too many), and they didn’t even mention who wrote these iconic songs. Bad form, in my opinion.
It also never succeeded in being as exciting as Smokey Joe’s Cafe is. The performers had very few times to let go and perform the music as it was intended. The music was always shrouded with story and over-sentimentality. The best songs of the evening were the two encores, “Shout” (Reprise) and “Twist and Shout”. Part of that was because you finally knew the show was over, but also because the cast finally had a chance to let loose and enjoy themselves and the music. I wanted more of that kind of energy the entire time. I actually dozed off for a few minutes in the first act because the energy never changed on the stage — very one note.
While, I enjoyed the history lesson, I never ultimately cared about any of it. Ms. Beth Leavel deserved her Tony nomination, but I can also see why she didn’t win. She created subtext and story when there was none. She made moments work when they weren’t supposed to. She made a show that had no life and gave it the only life there was. Ms. Leavel is a star. Without her, this show will have little left.
Regional and community theatres will produce this show because it panders to the retired “blue-hair” audience, the season subscription buyers. And while it seemed the older generation genuinely enjoyed the show, there’s little connection to the rest of us. After every “blue-hair” in New York City has seen this, the show will have to close. It just doesn’t resonate with anyone else.
Baby It’s You ended up being just okay and in a season of 10 new musicals (and two excellent revivals), there’s little room for a show that’s just okay.