'Baby It's You'

A musically compelling but thematically awkward journey.

Bio tuner specialists Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux have honed a musically compelling but thematically awkward journey through the career of New Jersey housewife turned rock ‘n roll recording honcho Florence Greenberg (Meeghan Holaway). As helmed by Floyd Mutrux and choreographed by wife Brigitte Mutrux, “Baby It’s You” offers an adept survey of nearly 40 tunes that helped define the pop/rock music era book-ended by Elvis Presley and the Fab Four (1958-1965). Not so successful are the clunky scenic episodes chronicling Greenberg’s ascent as founder of Scepter Records, her failed marriage to staid hubby Bernie (Barry Pearl) and her affair with composer/record producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis).

The music simply overpowers the storyline, thanks to a vocally transcendent ensemble and the dead-on musical arrangements and direction of Richard Perry and Adam Irizarry, respectively. Once Florence is introduced to the vocal outpouring of the four high school classmates of daughter Mary Jane (Suzanne Petrela), warbling their own composition (“I Met Him On A Sunday”), the subsequent between song exposition becomes more a distraction than an enhancement to the true strength of this tuner.

As the school girl quartet (Erica Ash, Berlando Drake, Paulette Ivory, Crystal Starr Knighton) evolves into the legendary early 60s chartbusters The Shirelles, the production, enhanced by Brigitte Mutrux’s period-perfect choreography and Lizz Wolf’s myriad eye-popping costumes, becomes awash with such top forty fare as “Dedicated to the One I love,” “Tonight’s the Night,” “He’s So Fine,” “Soldier Boy,” “Mama Said,” “Foolish Little Girl” and “A Thing of the Past.” Conspicuous by its absence is The Shirelle’s hit debut of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”

Ongoing vocal highlights are offered by Geno Henderson’s yeoman vocal portrayals of such rhythm n’ Blues standouts as Ron Isley (“Shout,” “Twist and Shout”), Chuck Jackson (“Since I Don’t Have You,” “Any Day Now,” “You Really got A Hold”) and Gene Chandler (“Duke of Earl”). Moving out of her Shirelles commitment, Paulette Ivory envelopes the persona of Dionne Warwick (“Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By”).

Holaway admirably projects the ambivalence of a traditional middle aged Jewish mother and housewife who also has an empathetic gift for understanding the music of the youth of America. One of the comedic highlights of the production is Florence’s argument with her hubby to the tune of “Mama Said,” as Pearl’s Bernie counters with “Yakety Yak.”

Allan Louis is guilty of projecting Luther Dixon’s social/racial angst to the level of relentless one-note diatribe but his vocal outpourings of “Sixteen Candles,” “Big John,” and “Dark Side of the Street” are sublime. Complementing the proceedings in multiple roles and vocal representations are musical director Adam Irizarry (“Book of Love,” “Get a Job,” “Mr. Bass Man”). In a solo turn, Petrela offers a musically representative Leslie Gore (“It’s My Party”).

“Baby It’s You” has the legs to potentially make a successful trip to the Big Apple once it achieves a more symbiotic balance between music and storyline. The onstage talent is certainly in place.

Baby It's You

Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena: 654 seats; $73 top

Production

A Pasadena Playhouse, by special arrangement with American Pop Anthology, Jonathan Sanger, Jerry Katell, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Joan Stein, in association with Universal Music Group, presentation of a musical in two acts by Colin Escott & Floyd Mutrux. Directed by Floyd Mutrux. Music direction, Adam Irizarry. Music supervision/arrangements, Richard Perry. Choreography, Brigitte Mutrux. Sets, Anna Louizos.

Creative

Costumes, Lizz Wolf; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Martin Carillo; hair & wig, Carol Doran; stage manager, Ronn Goswick. Opened, reviewed, Nov. 13; closes Dec. 13. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MINUTES.

Cast

Florence Greenberg - Meeghan Holaway Luther Dixon - Allan Louis Micki/Shirelle - Erica Ash Shirley/Shirelle - Berlando Drake Beverly/Shirelle/Dionne Warwick - Paulette Ivory Doris/Shirelle/Millie - Crystal Starr Knighton Jocko/Ron Isley/Chuck Jackson/Gene Chandler - Geno Henderson Stanley/Burt Bacharach - Adam Irazarry Marvin Schlacter - Matt McKenzie Bernie Greenberg/Milt Gabler - Barry Pearl Mary Jane - Suzanne Petrela Shirelle's Understudy - Annette Moore

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