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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Baby, It's You! Sure To Be A Smash

Last night I had the opportunity to see the new Broadway musical  Baby, It's You! What a show! If you combined Jersey Boys with Memphis, you'd get Baby, It's You. It tells the story of Florence Greenberg, a housewife from Passaic, New Jersey who discovers the Shirelles and founds a record company (or two or three).

I knew nothing of Greenberg, and hopefully this show will make her a household name. She is an early proponent of girl power, albeit she pays a price in her personal life as many driven people do. I read that Bette Midler had hoped to do a TV movie based on Greenberg in the 1990's, but couldn't get the license for some of the early music. What a shame, it would have been a perfect vehicle for her, and more people would know what a contribution Greenberg made to pop music.

Broadway vet Beth Leavel plays Florence, and does an amazing job. (Tony, anyone?) At first I found her Carol-Burnett-as-Eunice-from-Mama's-Family's wig unnerving, but when she makes her transformation from Jersey housewife to New York music executive, I got the point.

Leavel has such a powerful, beautiful singing voice, I wished she had more songs to sing. She sang "The Dark End of the Street" with Allen Louis, Geno Henderson and Christina Sajous, their vocals blending together heavenly. I also enjoyed "Don't Make Me Over" and "Walk On By", songs she sang with Erica Ash (wonderful as Dionne Warwick) and Louis.

But the highlight was "Dedicated to the One I Love", which is for my money one of the best pop songs ever written. When the Shirelles (Sajous, Ash, Kyra Da Costa and Crystal Starr Knighton) sang that song, they gave me chills. The ladies voices were pitch perfect, and the enthusiasm they displayed was contagious. And the speed at which they made costume changes must be a record!

The audience for this show was the most involved I've ever seen at any Broadway show- people singing, humming, dancing in their seats, and squealing with joy as they recognized their favorite songs. At the end of the show, the cast sang "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Shout/Twist and Shout" and the entire audience gleefully joined in the celebration.

Louis looks like Billy Dee Williams in his "Lady Sings the Blues" days, and his character's romance with Leavel and the issues that an interracial couple faced in the early 1960's is a solid storyline in the show.

The costumes are beautiful, they look more vintage than like costumes created for the show. The staging is inventive, and I can see this show having a long national tour and regional theater run following a LONG Broadway run.

The music, the costumes, the acting, the singing (Henderson's "Since I Don't Have You" is a standout)- it calls come together to create an unforgettable night of theater. If you liked Jersey Boys, you will love Baby, It's You!

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