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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Broadhurst Theatre


  (L to R) Crystal Starr, Christina Sajous, Shirley Alston Reeves, Erica Ash and Kyra Da Costa

Baby It’s You, the new Broadway musical biography exploiting the tune stack of the early 1960s black girl group The Shirelles in addition to other golden oldies, is probably not the worst jukebox musical you’ve seen over the past decade (since Mamma Mia! first hit Broadway). But it is definitely one of the least satisfying due to fundamental problems with the construction of its book.

The Shirelles, credited for being the first girl group to achieve a number-one hit on the Billboard charts, were discovered at a New Jersey high school by Florence Greenberg (played by Beth Leavel), a Jewish housewife with no contacts whatsoever in the music industry. Through sheer force of will and much creativity, Greenberg turned The Shirelles into a commercial success, recording such hits as “Baby It’s You,” “Mama Said,” and “Soldier Boy.” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” the group’s first big hit, is oddly not heard in Baby It's You.

In spite of their often sappy and sentimental nature, the group’s songs are pleasant enough to hear and have a tendency to stick in your head for days to come. But they certainly have no dramatic substance, at least not the kind that can support even a jukebox musical. Say what you will about Mamma Mia!, but many of those ABBA songs do uphold the negligible plot.

In an early scene, Greenberg’s husband Bernie (Barry Pearl) berates his wife for even considering leaving the home with a sexist rendition of “Yakety Yak.” Leavel, in a sober tone, sings “Mama Said.” Even if the use of these pop songs, shoehorned into a domestic squabble, is awkward, it remains an interesting, even jarring choice.

But for the remainder of the evening, songs popularized by The Shirelles – as well as other period songs (“Shout,” “Walk On By,” “The Dark End of the Street,” “Book of Love,” “It’s My Party”) – are pumped in and out of the lackluster book. For the record, how could this be called a Shirelles musical when so much of the songs have nothing to do with The Shirelles? The storytelling is so inefficient that a narrator named Jocko (Geno Henderson) is even employed.

Four women play The Shirelles – Christina Sajous, Kyra Da Costa, Crystal Starr Knighton and Erica Ash – but I dare you to tell them apart. Baby It's You places far more emphasis on Greenberg, who hardly sings at all, and her partner and sometime lover Luther Dixon (Allan Louis).

Leavel, who earned a Tony Award for her show-stopping performance in The Drowsy Chaperone, lends much credibility to the project. But this show is not worthy of her dynamic talent and sincere commitment to her character.

A short concert utilizing the songs of The Shirelles might be entertaining in a nostalgic way, but Baby It's You lacks the simple fun of a revue. And Greenberg’s underdog story could certainly provide the framework of a good movie or play, but is instead pigeonholed into the framework of a bad jukebox musical. You leave the theater feeling bad for The Shirelles and Greenberg, and for yourself for having just sat through the damn thing. 


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