Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

Baby It’s You – Los Angeles Musical Theater Review

 

LATE 50s AND EARLY 60s NOW PLAYING ON THE THEATER JUKEBOX

 

picture - Baby It's YouTheater Review

by John Topping

published November 22, 2009

 

Baby It’s You

now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse

through December 13

 

If you were around during the early 80s, you may remember the musical fad that came quickly, hit big, and abruptly parted; the one that was called Stars on 45.  To jog your memory, they were a group (of studio session musicians and singers) who played whole album sides with snippets of familiar and popular singles back to back with an unwavering backbeat (it was the tail end of the era when 45 rpm vinyl records were pressed).  The crowd-pleasing musical Baby It’s You, which just moved from West Hollywood’s Coast Playhouse to the bigger Pasadena Playhouse, has a few similarities:  no song is ever played from start to finish, but they come one after another, fast and furiously, and, by the end, there may have been mild enjoyment at the novelty, but moreso, one pines for the original recordings.

 

This is no fault of the actors, who have uniformly excellent voices, but of the book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux.  The show is pulled in two different directions, not sure whether to be the story of the rise and fall of The Shirelles – as discovered by the bored housewife empty nester-turned-hot record producer Florence Greenberg – or to be a standard jukebox musical cornucopia of songs and singers from the era.  The Shirelles are tied into the other songs as much as possible; for instance, a lot of the artists are presented as supporting acts booked throughout the country as The Shirelles go on their headlining tour; later, we get Dionne Warwick when Florence begins working with Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  What we don’t get is any degree of depth in the characters or any real surprise in each turn of events (with one exception; more later).  The discovery of the Shirelles is a plot formality – daughter tells Florence about them, she hears them sing an excerpt of “I Met Him On A Sunday,” and after an unconvincing Hey-Girls-That’s-Great, signs them on the spot.  There’s no sense of how she rose from a housewife with no employment background whatsoever to a no-nonsense go-getting hit-record producer.  When she teams up with hit-songwriting-machine Luther Dixon as her co-producer, they agree to join forces through an almost casual conversation.  Nothing snaps or pops; it’s all exposition that barely builds beyond the expectation that things are supposed to follow this kind of course in this kind of story.

 

picture - Baby It's YouThe exception is the relationship that develops between the white Florence Greenberg (Meeghan Holaway) and the black Luther Dixon (Allen Louis) in this era when racism was status quo and interracial marriages were still illegal.  But, although these two are the most fully developed characters, their affair is not particularly interesting beyond the appreciation of seeing it represented onstage.  As for The Shirelles, any hope of having any sense of any of them as individuals you can forget about right now – it ain’t happening.  The character of Jocko, played by Geno Henderson, is a disc jockey whom I’m guessing was supposed to be onstage for the duration of the show, but Henderson plays multiple characters (though there’s not much distinction from one to another) and was pinch-hitting for Ty Taylor, who left the show at some point between the program being printed and opening night.

 

So what we’re left with is the songs, and they are perhaps all we should have been given from the get-go.  They are the main attraction, after all, taking you on a nostalgic stroll through yesteryear, framed by the fluorescent candy colored scenic and lighting designs (by Anna Louizos and Howell Binkley, respectively).  “Rockin’ Robin,” “Yakety Yak,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “He’s So Fine,” “It’s My Party,” “Don’t Make Me Over,” to name a few.  At the performance I attended, a woman behind me felt the freedom to sing along with each song, as the evening was obviously meant for her alone.  But perhaps this lack of consideration on her part was due to our not being seized by each song individually.  If we could have suspended disbelief that we were actually watching the real Shirelles; or felt genuine excitement from any of the performers who might have taken the stage and commanded it, or even heard a few of the songs completely from start to finish; then Sing-Along Lady might not have felt so at liberty to join in.  If the nostalgia alone is intrinsically enjoyable for you, as it was for much of the audience, then by all means, go and enjoy yourself.  Anyone looking for exceptional theater, however, would do well to search elsewhere.

 

johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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