Wednesday, November 18, 2009

review - Baby It's You

Baby It's You
written by Colin Escott & Floyd Mutrux
directed by Mutrux
Pasadena Playhouse
through December 13

Extended for months at West Hollywood's Coast Playhouse, Baby It's You was a superhit musical revue (with a scattered storyline) about The Shirelles that really packed in the crowds. Word of mouth was that it was sensational. Now it's been restaged for the Pasadena Playhouse - and, the result, I am sorry to say, is that going BIG is not always the way to go.
I did not see the original production, but, within the first few minutes of this one, I could sense the underlying problems and questioned the logistics of taking it away from an intimate ambience. The set (Anna Louizos) and costumes (Lizz Wolf) look super, and the cast - cool - but, somehow, between numbers - love those late 50s, early 60s superhits - the action starts to lag, especially after Florence Greenberg (a fine Meeghan Holaway) establishes her record label. Here things should pick up and move, but for some reason or other, they do not. More blocking and more costume changes do have a tendency to slow things down, despite actors' valiant efforts. Even the musical arrangements start to disappoint, as we are not given full songs, but rather partial treatments. So, the music dynamics slip too, even with obviously good singing and musicianship. A bigger space allows for the play to grow into more of a book musical, and that's what cries out to happen here. So far, it's a music panorama or kaleidoscope with snippets of events suited to the small stage.
The 'revue' chronicles a period in much transition. There are rear projections, like photos of Ike playing golf and JFK's entry into the political arena that trace historical events that also show changing trends in culture and music. In the early 60s there were Burt Bacharach, the Beatles and, of course, the Supremes who eventually replaced the Shirelles as the ultimate all girl group.
Florence has an affair with her partner Nathan Dixon (Allan Louis), an African American, called a Negro in those times, and this kind of affair was shocking to say the least. The affair as controversial is barely touched here, as is Greenberg's failing marriage to her husband of many years, Bernie Greenberg (Barry Pearl). Controversies are avoided in a musical revue. However, in this new opened up show, there must be a clearer perspective of how Florence made positive changes for all women, and these issues should be dealt with. Alas, again, a book musical is the tall order, if the show is to remain on the big stage.
The cast, in spite of the varied flaws, are all excellent. Erica Ash, Berlando Drake, Paulette Ivory, and Crystal Starr Knighton make up the effervescent quartet The Shirelles. We see them on the outside, their successes, but never see what's going on within any of them. Geno Henderson struts his versatile stuff as Ron Isley, Chuck Jackson, Gene Chandler and Jocko, and Barry Pearl as Bernie Greenberg gets an opportunity to also play Milt Gabler, the conniving head of Decca Records, who knows a good thing when he sees it. Mutrux directs fairly smoothly. The tiny gaps will most likely straighten themselves out as the show plays 8 times a week.
This is a good show that ought to be great, but isn't. A lot is missing. As is, other period plays like The Marvelous Wonderettes and Life Could Be a Dream are far glitzier and more enjoyable fare. They are smaller shows that have stayed in smaller venues. Baby It's You as is is more suited to off-Broadway than Broadway. If the goal stays Broadway, then the entire show must be reworked, rewritten and perhaps then we'll see more of a surefire hit!
3 out of 5 stars


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