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A kaleidoscope of hit tunes — Baby It’s You!

A kaleidoscope of hit tunes — Baby It’s You!

"The Shirelles and Jocko" -- photo by Michael Lamont

Jam-packed with catchy, up-beat hit tunes and fab outfits, the sixties-infused musical, Baby It”™s You!, is now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse, having successfully transferred from its run at the Crown Playhouse earlier this year.

Featuring many of the greatest songs of the pre-British Invasion era, Baby It”™s You! tells the story of Florence Greenberg and Scepter Records. This was the label that Florence eventually started when she signed the talented teenagers who became known as The Shirelles. This cutting-edge female quartet went on to become the biggest girl-group of the early sixties. With the help of African-American songwriter and producer Luther Dixon, who became her business partner and lover, Florence took on the male music establishment and revolutionized pop music.

A ground-breaking label in its day, Scepter Records pre-dated many of the most important movements in music – the ascent of The Beatles, the distinctive sound of Motown, even the folk-rock era. Baby It”™s You! is the intriguing story of how classic records such as “Baby, It”™s You,” “Soldier Boy,” “He”™s So Fine,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Tonight”™s the Night,” “Twist and Shout,” and many others came to be made. Greenberg”™s company created and launched some of the most important songs in the golden era of rock “˜n”™ roll, from artists including The Isley Brothers, The Kingsmen, Chuck Jackson, Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick.

Leading the insanely talented cast of Baby It”™s You! is Meeghan Holaway, as Florence Greenberg. When we first meet Florence, she is suffering suburban malaise, having moved out of the city to New Jersey to raise her kids. Once the youngest is almost out of school, Florence complains to her husband that she needs a job. Intractably stuck in his old-fashioned mind-set, Florence”™s husband Bernie (played well, if unsympathetically, by Barry Pearl) cannot comprehend his wife”™s quest for a career, for a more meaningful pursuit than homemaker.

When Florence”™s daughter Mary Jane (Suzanne Petrela) introduces her Mom to a group of girls at her school who are writing and singing their own songs, Florence decides to take a chance on their sound and obvious talent and starts up her first record label.

photo by Michael Lamont

Written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, this lively musical is a perfect balance of songs and story and fashion. In fact, the whole show is like an endless fashion parade of some of the most glamorous and stylish outfits from the era, thanks to the exquisite creations from costume designer Lizz Wolf and her hard-working team. The shimmery, sparkling and fur-trimmed costumes and fabulous printed fabrics and gowns are a treat for the eyes. As we follow Florence”™s trajectory to fame and fortune, we see all the adversity she faced along the way, from resentment on the home front to rampant corruption in the industry to the racism she experienced in her relationship with her partner Luther Dixon (beautifully portrayed by Allan Louis).

Playing the talented Shirelles are Erica Ash as Micki, Berlando Drake as Shirley, Paulette Ivory as Beverly (who also does a stunning cameo as Dionne Warwick), and Crystal Starr Knighton as Doris. These beautiful and gifted women all give brilliant performances, though this critic felt there was not enough time devoted to delineating between the characters of the four women. Nevertheless, their powerhouse voices more than make up for this narrative deficiency.

Geno Henderson sets the high-energy, rocking vibe right from the start and narrates the show as Jocko, a Little Richard-style radio DJ. Henderson also plays the magnetic stage personality Chuck Jackson, as well as Ron Isley and Gene Chandler when needed, and demonstrates a razor-sharp efficiency when sketching these different characters for their brief scenes.

Upstage and, for the most part, hidden behind a scrim, the live band pump out all the musical accompaniment for the show with remarkable flair.

Baby It”™s You! is a marvelous musical with heart and brimming with sensational performances.

Currently playing at the Pasadena Playhouse,
39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena

Runs: until December 20th, 2009

Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m.;
Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.;
and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Ticket prices are $62.00 – $78.00.

Subscriptions may be purchased by calling the Pasadena Playhouse at (626) 356-7529 or by visiting the Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, open from 12:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily excluding holidays and online.

Group Sales (15 or more) are available by calling (626) 737-2851

Review by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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