Imagine “Jersey Boys” without the carefully integrated character development of Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, and with a tunestack only one quarter as imperishable. You needn’t imagine it; just wander to the Broadhurst for “Baby It’s You!,” the new jukeboxer outlining the rise and demise of the Shirelles. The early ’60s quartet was the first all-girl group to have a No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts. But their time in the spotlight was limited, and the appeal of this biomusical is limited as well.
Tuner from Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott — currently represented on Broadway by “Million Dollar Quartet,” just starting its second year at the Nederlander — concentrates not on the girls but on manager Florence Greenberg (Beth Leavel). The story they tell might well be true-to-life, but it comes across as stilted and unlikely. Greenberg, a caricature of a Jewish middle-aged suburban housewife, finds the girls at Passaic High School and makes them singing stars with hits like “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Tonight’s the Night,” and “Mama Said.”
Along the way, she leaves her husband (Barry Pearl, shpieling and looking like Alan King) to form a business-and-bedroom partnership with African-American songwriter/producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis), 20 years her junior. They make an odd and not very believable couple, and one who would have faced enormous obstacles in 1960.
Leavel (“Drowsy Chaperone”) does all she can with the leading role, but the authors make impossible demands. Her character acts like a cross between Gertrude Berg’s upwardly mobile matriarch Molly Goldberg and “Queen of Mean” hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, but once the music starts, Leavel, being the star of an R&B jukebox musical, necessarily sings R&B songs. Not an easy mix, and one that makes this show lurch along from Shirelle-singing to soap opera.
By the end of the evening, we learn more than we want about Greenberg but virtually nothing about the Shirelles, only one of whom (Christina Sajous) is given enough dialogue to differentiate her. The girls sing well, though, and constantly.
Show is continually perked up by two actors doubling in various roles, Geno Henderson (as a DJ and various singers) and Brandon Uranowitz (as a long-suffering press guy and Goldberg’s blind son). Characters named Ron Isley, Dionne Warwick and Lesley Gore mystifyingly wander on to sing a song or two — acts handled by Greenberg, apparently, but the librettists don’t bother to tell us that.
Direction by Mutrux and Sheldon Epps is busy, and choreography by Brigitte Mutrux is overly busy. Anna Louizos’ set is dominated by five video screens with projections that are occasionally more interesting than what’s on stage. Lighting designer Howell Binkley (“Jersey Boys”) keeps things popping, though. Eight-man orchestra is hard-working and omnipresent on a tentacled bandstand that occasionally swings downstage, with some nice solos from Tom Murray on sax.