'Baby It's You' on Broadway: What did the critics think?
“Baby It’s You,” the jukebox musical that got its start in Los Angeles, opened at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre Wednesday night. The show revolves around the story of Florence Greenberg, who went from bored New Jersey housewife to record producer after discovering the ‘60s girl group the Shirelles.
When it played at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2009, Times theater critic Charles McNulty warned: “In the annals of jukebox musicals, this one won’t reach the average mark without a major rewrite and some recasting of the subpar supporting players.”
Well, the recast, reworked musical -- written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott and co-directed by Mutrux and Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps -- now features Beth Leavel as Greenberg and includes such period tunes as “Mama Said,” “Don't Make Me Over” and “Walk on By.” Most reviewers noted that “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” one of the Shirelles’ biggest hits, was noticeably absent from the show
"Baby It's You" got off to a rough start when the show’s producers were hit with a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by representatives of the singer Dionne Warwick and three former members of the Shirelles -- Beverly Lee and the late Doris Coley Jackson and Addie Harris McFadden -- as well as R&B singer Chuck Jackson. They claim that their names and likenesses are being used without permission.
So what did the critics think?
Over at the Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones also got straight to the point at the top of his review (and it's downhill from there): “Oh, the wretched unfairness of it all. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons get a thrilling jukebox celebration. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at least had their music treated with respect and artistry. But the Shirelles, one of the greatest girl groups of all time (heck, they were covered by the Beatles), get a show of such total ineptitude and cynical profiteering that your mouth pretty much dangles open in disbelief for the duration of the entire tawdry proceedings.”
Under the headline “Baby It’s Not You,” Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post lamented that the Shirelles “deserved a better showcase”: “Written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the team that brought us the lame rockabilly fest 'Million Dollar Quartet,' 'Baby It's You!' wavers uneasily between Greenberg's life story and the Shirelles' career arc. As such, the show is neither fish nor fowl, but neither is it as foul as its authors' pedigree would suggest.”
New York Daily News critic Joe Dziemianowicz gave the production 2 out of 4 stars, noting: “The show opened Wednesday night at the Broadhurst and boasts nearly three dozen hit songs. Among them, 'I Met Him on a Sunday,' 'He's So Fine,' 'Dedicated to the One I Love' and 'Walk on By.' The title of that last hit is my advice for this production, considering that the songs are so blandly performed they don't make an impression.”
David Rooney, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, also had issues with the music in the jukebox musical: “Biggest disappointment is the music. Songs are dropped in with the randomness of a late-'50s/early-'60s playlist set to shuffle mode. The show takes some of the great American pop tunes of the 20th century and homogenizes their transcendent joys and heartaches into bland karaoke. Numbers almost invariably are chopped into fragmented presentations, interrupted by dialogue or repurposed as Broadway-ized musical soliloquies.”
Scott Brown at New York magazine suggests “There’s a remarkable story here, but you’d be forgiven for missing it: The writers certainly have. They’re more interested in reminding you when the story’s taking place, with help from LED screens that drip with clip-art nostalgia and scene-setting screen savers…. Even Leavel’s Greenberg, the show’s ostensible focal point, takes a backseat to the set list. Mutrux (working with his 'Million Dollar' collaborator Colin Escott) is just trying to pack in as many K-tel hits as he can.”
Top photo: Beth Leavel, center, performs with the ensemble cast in "Baby It's You." Credit: Associated Press. Bottom photo: Leavel. Credit: Associated Press