The Sexy Armpit does get ribbed for going to Broadway shows occasionally. Reactions I’ve gotten after telling people I bought tickets to see Baby It’s You on Broadway ranged from “Oh, you’re going to love it!” to “What? YOU bought tickets to see that??” Baby It’s You is not as boisterous as Rock of Ages, or as sensational as Phantom of the Opera, but after seeing on Sunday, June 12th, I found it to be a lively journey through the course of The Shirelles stardom led by record executive Florence Greenberg.
Even though Greenberg hailed from Passaic New Jersey, she was nothing like the women you see on The Housewives of New Jersey. She was a typical doting housewife who served her husband like a robot. Eventually Greenberg sought out something more from her life and decided she wanted to work in the music business. In the process of starting her own record label she left her husband and disregarded her children while dealing with her new found passion. Tony Award Winner Beth Leavel’s performance as Greenberg is first rate as we watch her ascend from the doldrums of her wifely duties in the late ’50s to prominence as a record exec.
Originally, the success of Greenberg’s second label, Scepter Records, was largely based on the New Jersey girl group The Shirelles. They were the first girl group to have a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and they were even covered by The Beatles…twice! Not bad for four graduates of Passaic High School. Baby It’s You is unique because it’s telling a story that isn’t widely known, especially to a younger audience. Essentially it’s the more obscure, female version of Jersey Boys. The show unearths the tale of a frustrated Jewish housewife from New Jersey who with a little creativity and chutzpah radically changed her life and made her dreams as well as The Shirelles dreams come true.
Personally, I knew almost all of the songs in the performed in the play, but I had no idea who Florence Greenberg was or that The Shirelles were such an influential group. The pace of the plot is boosted by the sound of several familiar songs that you may not even realize were originally performed by The Shirelles. The whole production is a deserving tribute to a group that predated The Supremes, and whose influences are even seen in more recent acts like Destiny’s Child. No matter your age, chances are, you’ll know at least half of the songs in the play and they’ll all wind up sticking in your head. Here’s just a few that are featured by The Shirelles: “Met Him on a Sunday,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Soldier Boy,” and of course “Baby It’s You.”
Unfortunately the amount of songs crammed into the play is one of my only real gripes with it. The previous list of songs is only about one quarter of the songs featured. Not only will you hear The Shirelles, but also songs by Leslie Gore (played by former Rock of Ages star Kelli Barrett), Dionne Warwick, The Kingsmen, The Monotones, and Gene Chandler among many others. Over stuffing the production with song and dance numbers actually made it go on a little too long.
If you’re one of those people who are worried about what people will say if you decide to go to a show on Broadway, cut the crap and GO! Whatever music you’re into, it doesn’t matter. The Shirelles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, so if you consider yourself a serious fan of American music, that’s reason enough to see it. Baby It’s You will take you for a fun and nostalgic spin through the rock and roll landscape of the late ’50s and early ’60s.
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