Thursday, April 28, 2011

Baby, It's You

You can't swing a cat in the middle of Times Square without knocking down four women who could sing the Shirelle out of 60's, girl-group harmonies. How, then, did the producers of Baby, It's You audition every African American woman in New York City with an Equity card and not manage to fill a foursome? Who decided to scrape together a few random morsels of historical trivia, vomit them up a calorie at a time, and call it a meal? What, pray tell, were the folks over at the Broadhurst thinking?

I have no problem with the juke box musical, and I didn't have a problem with the concept or conceivers behind Baby, It's You. I loved their previous effort, Million Dollar Quartet. Not a great show. Anorexic script. Bare thread of fact stringing together an entire evening of brilliant performances. The formula worked, so there was every reason to believe lightning could strike twice. After all, they had the force of nature that is Beth Leavel at the heart of the show. But this ain't no Million Dollar Quartet. It's a buck fifty bootleg from the bad idea bin.

Neither the rise and reprise of the Shirelles nor the disproportionately hyped tale of Florence Greenberg do much to carry this show--neither can even pick it up and get it off the ground. The evening is all about the star of the show, not the character but the actress. Beth Leavel takes the stage, takes it away from anyone who dares to share, and leaves you wishing you could follow her off with every exit, just so you don't have to watch the live K-Tel commercial of historical and musical highlights that bridge her appearances. She does her best to add heart and relevance to the scenes, but it is hard to Lady Macbeth a bumper sticker. However, the woman can sing. She wraps her voice around a note, swaddling it gently as the baby Jesus in the manger, and blankets it with warmth and welcome. You could almost climb inside and lose yourself were you not engulfed in the relentless parade of hits--right between the eyes.

The men are more brick layers than artisans. Allan Louis lays a nice foundation for the The-More-You-Know lessons on fobidden love, creative pressure, and emasculation--not to mention the dangers of bangin the boss. Barry Pearl grounds the story from the start. Thirty seconds in and you want to cheat on him too (with another show); but he brings solid work to both acts, by which I mean that he acts twice. Geno Henderson and Brandon Uranowitz play multiple characters, such a shame Mr. Henderson seems to only have two characterizations in him. He's the equivalent of theatrical herpes--constantly threatening to appear, and you can't wait for him to just go away.

The Faux-relles (Erica Ash, Kyra Da Costa, Crystal Starr Knighton, and Christina Sajous), as I've mentioned, are simply unfathomable. Bad enough they can't handle the frog-ass tight harmonies that should be cost of entry, but there's not a triple threat among them--or between them. One, who shall not be named, couldn't stay on pitch if she were standing in it on the steps of the palace. Two of them would require transplants for a second left foot. Kelli Barrett, as All White Women Not Named Florence, was a fine daughter, but she wasn't the only one crying at the party during her Lesley Gore assassination.

The band was good.

Carole King must have known something I didn't. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow was nowhere to be heard or found. She apparently said, "Keep your hands off my baby." Lesson learned, Carole.

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